Food: The great Malaysian uniter

APRIL 4 — The great rendang debacle was very amusing but also a bit tragic. Food, apparently, hits the kind of nerve that gets Malaysians all impassioned to fight and even make peace with Asean neighbours.

I love rendang but as someone who’s actually made it for years (thanks, Ma), one thing that strikes me about the whole thing is — how the heck could anyone make decent rendang during Masterchef?

The thing about rendang is that it needs time to make — all the better for the sauce to properly dry out and the meat to fully absorb the blend of spices.

Some people tried defending the Masterchef judges, saying they were merely trying to articulate that the chicken wasn’t cooked properly. But the word crispy is still a problem. It’s not actually possible to make crispy rendang.

Anyhow, people have been complaining that it seems the only things that unite Malaysians seem to be food and sports events.

That’s not a terrible thing to be honest. You know who else are obsessed with unity? Fascists. Better to have some things we can all get behind (crispy rendang is impossible) but at the same time I’m a big believer in diversity of thought and opinion. Except for Nazis. Always say no to Nazis.

It does bother me, all this rhetoric about being “one” and “united.” Peace is not about homogeneity — it’s about learning to embrace differences and diversity. 

For instance the pineapple and pizza debate — there will be people who love Hawaiian pizzas, and those who don’t. They can however agree that pizza is great.

The whole rendang thing is really part of the process of finding things we can agree on, making the most of bad situations and learning to get on better.

Please don’t make a beloved national dish a point of reference to inspire nationalistic fervour. We’ll end up with someone writing a terrible rendang song with lyrics like “rendang kita makan bersama, bersatulah orang Malaysia” (we eat rendang together, unite Malaysians).

In the meantime, let’s work harder on making our national dishes (sorry, Indonesia) more prominent. I don’t think we do enough to publicise our food — instead we have terrible food “experts” at the New York Times claiming our white coffee is made with beans roasted in olive oil. 

But hey, who knows. Maybe some foreign chef will figure out how to make crispy-skinned chicken rendang. Till that day happens let’s continue to be the best ambassadors for one thing: Malaysian food.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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