Padang restaurants found across the region have increased the popularity of rendang
The origin of rendang could be traced back to the Indian merchants links to West Sumatra before the 15th century. There are Dutch archives about Minangkabau that state regular contacts between India and West Sumatra in the early second millennium, thus suggests that north Indian curry was possibly the precursor of rendang. Indian curry was adopted by the Minangkabau people as gulai, a local version of curry. Minangkabau people then cooked this gulai further in order to prepare kalio also known as wet rendang. This cooking process was then continued until it thickened and became rendang or also known as dry rendang.
Andalas University historian, Prof. Gusti Asnan suggests that rendang began to spread across the region when Minangkabau merchants began to trade and migrate to Malacca in the 16th century, "Because the journey through the river waterways in Sumatra took much time, a durable preserved dry rendang is suitable for a long journey." The dried Padang rendang is a durable food, good to consume for weeks, even when left at room temperature. In fact, the earliest written records of rendang is from the Malaccan Malay manuscript of Hikayat Amir Hamzah, which date back to the 1550s. Rendang is said to have been invented during this time - when chili from America had arrived in Malay archipelago through Portuguese traders in Portuguese occupied Malacca.
During Indonesian National Revolution in 1946, Indonesian first lady Fatmawati, the wife of Sukarno cooked and sent rendang to boost morale of Indonesian republic freedom fighters around Yogyakarta. Declined by household helps, she insisted on buying beef and went to the market herself by becak despite being pregnant at that time.
The popularity of rendang has spread widely from its original domain because of the merantau (migrating) culture of Minangkabau people. In the modern era, Overseas Minangkabau leave their hometown to start a career in other Indonesian cities as well as neighboring countries, and Padang restaurants, Minangkabau eating establishments that are ubiquitous in Indonesian cities, spring up. These Padang restaurants have introduced and popularised Minangkabau style rendang and other Padang food dishes across Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the wider world.
Rendang is a dish delivered to elders during traditional Minangkabau ceremonies.
Rendang is revered in Minangkabau culture as an embodiment of the philosophy of musyawarah, discussion and consultation with elders. It has been claimed that the four main ingredients represent Minangkabau society as a whole:
The meat (daging) symbolises the Niniak Mamak, the traditional clan leaders such as the datuk, the nobles, royalty and revered elders.
The coconut milk (karambia) symbolises the Cadiak Pandai, intellectuals, teachers, poets and writers.
The chilli (lado) symbolises the Alim Ulama, clerics, ulama and religious leaders. The hotness of the chilli symbolises Sharia.
The spice mixture (pemasak) symbolises the rest of Minangkabau society.
In Minangkabau tradition, rendang is a requisite dish for special occasions in traditional Minang ceremonies, from birth ceremonies to circumcision, marriage, Qur'an recitals, and religious festivals such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
In 2011, rendang placed 11th place on a list of World's 50 best foods published by CNN International. An online reader's poll of 35,000 voters chose beef rendang as the top dish on CNN International's Readers' picks list.
Rendang is most often described as meat slow-cooked in coconut milk and spices until it becomes tender. If cooked properly, dry rendang can last for as long as four weeks. Prior to refrigeration technology, this style of cooking enabled preservation of the large amount of meat. The cooking technique flourished because of its role in preserving meat in a tropical climate. Its durability is one of the reasons that today, prepackaged rendang is sent as food aid relief for natural disaster survivors in Indonesia. The cut of beef suitable for rendang is lean meat of the rear leg of the cattle; i.e. topside or round beef, which is considered perfect for slow cooking.
Rendang is rich in spices. Along with the main meat ingredient, rendang uses coconut milk and a paste of mixed ground spices, including ginger, galangal, turmeric leaves, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, chillis and other spices. This spice mixture is called pemasak in Minangkabau. The spices, garlic, shallot, ginger and galangal used in rendang have antimicrobial properties and serve as natural organic preservatives. Although some culinary experts describe rendang as a curry, the dish is usually not considered as such in Indonesia or Malaysia since it is richer and contains less liquid than is normal for curries.
Traditionally the term rendang does not refer to a certain type of dish. The verb merendang actually refers to a method of slow cooking; continuously churning the ingredients in a pot or frying pan, on a small fire, until all of the liquids evaporate and the meat is well done. Traditional Padang rendang takes hours to cook. Cooking rendang involves pounding and grinding ingredients as well as slow cooking, and so is time-consuming and requires patience. The meat pieces are slowly cooked in coconut milk and spices until almost all the liquid is gone, allowing the meat to become tender and absorb the condiments. The cooking process changes from boiling to frying, as the liquid evaporates and the coconut milk turns to coconut oil. Cooking the meat until tender with almost all the liquid evaporated requires great care, keeping it from getting burnt. Because of its generous use of numerous spices, rendang is known for having a complex and unique taste.
In Minangkabau culinary tradition, there are three recognised stages in cooking meat in spicy coconut milk. The dish which results is categorised according to the liquid content of the cooked coconut milk, which ranges from the most wet and soupy to the most dry: Gulai — Kalio – Rendang. The ingredients of gulai, kalio and rendang are almost identical with the exceptions that gulai usually has less red chilli pepper and more turmeric, while rendang has richer spices.
If pieces of meat are cooked in spicy coconut milk and the process stopped right when the meat is done and the coconut milk has reached its boiling point, the dish is called gulai. If the process continues until the coconut milk is partly evaporated and the meat has started to brown, the dish is called kalio. For traditional dry rendang, the process continues hours beyond this, until the liquid has all but completely evaporated and the color turns to a dark brown, almost black color. Thus not only liquid content but also color indicate which type of rendang is involved: gulai is light yellow, kalio is brown and rendang is very dark brown. Today, one mostly finds only two simpler categories of rendang: either dry or wet.
According to Minangkabau tradition, their true rendang is the dry one. Although, unlike crispy dendengbalado spicy jerky, rendang's texture is not actually dry, since it is quite moist and rather oily. Rendang is diligently stirred, attended, and cooked for hours until the coconut milk has evaporated, turned into coconut oil, and the meat has absorbed the spices. It is still served for special ceremonial occasions or to honor guests. If cooked properly, dried rendang can last for three to four weeks stored at room temperature and is still good to consume. It can even last months stored in a refrigerator, and up to six months if frozen.
Most rendang in the Netherlands is actually a kalio because it still contains some liquid
Wet rendang, more accurately identified as kalio, is a type of rendang that is cooked for a shorter period of time and much of the coconut milk liquid has not evaporated. Kalio has quite abundant liquid sauce acquired from cooked coconut milk that partly has turned into spicy oil, which is quite flavourful if consumed with steamed rice. Much of rendang served abroad is actually more akin to kalio or wet version of rendang. If stored at room temperature, kalio lasts less than a week.Kalio usually has a light golden brown colour, paler than dry rendang.
The original Minangkabau rendang has two categories, rendang darek and rendang pesisir. Rendang darek (‘land rendang’) is an umbrella term for dishes from old regions in mountainous areas of the Minangkabau Highlands such as Batusangkar, Agam, Lima Puluh Kota, Payakumbuh, Padang Panjang and Bukittinggi. It mainly consists of beef, offal, poultry products, jackfruit, and many other vegetables and animal products which are found in these places. Rendang pesisir (‘coastal rendang’) is from the coastal regions of Minangkabau such as Pariaman, Padang, Painan and Pasaman. Rendang pesisir mainly consists of seafood, although it is not unusual for them to incorporate beef or water buffalo meat in their rendang.
Rendang baluik (rendang belut): eel rendang, speciality of Solok. In the Solok dialect, it is also called ‘randang baluk’.
Rendang bilih (bilis): bilis fish rendang, specialty of Padang Panjang. In Sumatraikan bilis refers distinctly to Mystacoleucus padangensis, a small freshwater fish endemic to Sumatra. In other places bilis might refer to sea anchovy instead.
Rendang datuk (rendang kering): dried beef rendang, that instead of using fresh beef cuts, the pieces of meat are dried for four days prior of cooking. Specialty of Muara Enim in South Sumatra.
Rendang daun kayu (samba buruk): rendang made of various edible leaves, usually leaves of ubi kayu, jirak, mali, rambai, daun arbai, mixed with ikan haruan (snakehead fish), specialty of Payakumbuh.
Rendang daun pepaya: young papaya leaf rendang.
Rendang dendeng: Dendeng rendang, thinly sliced dried and fried beef cooked in rendang spice. Also can be made from readily available processed beef jerky.
Rendang usus: intestine rendang, made of offals; the intestines of either poultry or cattle. The cattle intestine rendang is quite similar with gulai tambusu, gulai iso or gulai usus.
Today, rendang is quite widespread in Indonesia, owned mainly by the proliferation of Padang restaurants in the country, which led to popularity and adoption of rendang
into the kitchens of contemporary Indonesian households of various ethnic backgrounds. This might led to development of variants with slightly altered tastes to accommodate regional preferences. Other ethnic groups in Indonesia also have adopted a version of rendang into their daily diet. For example, in Java, the rendang—aside from the Padang variety sold in Padang restaurants—tend to be wet, slightly sweeter and less spicy to accommodate Javanese tastes.
Rendang has a long history in Malaysia with distinct versions unique to individual Malaysian states. The different versions of rendang use different ingredients for the spice mix, resulting in differing flavors to the meat.
Rendang ayam: chicken rendang.
Rendang ayam goreng: fried chicken rendang. The popularity of this rendang skyrocketed mainly due to rendangate controversy in 2018.
Rendang daging or Rendang Rembau: dark, woody coloured meat rendang. Traditionally made using water buffalo meat. These days, beef is commonly used instead.
Rendang daging hitam: Kicap Manis based black coloured beef rendang, a specialty of Sarawak.
Rendang ikan pari: stingray rendang, a specialty of Perak.
Rendang itik: duck rendang, a specialty of Negeri Sembilan and Sarawak. In Sarawak, the duck will be roasted first so that the meat is soft and not sticky. In Negeri Sembilan, the duck is preferred to be smoked first.
Rendang serundeng: dry meat floss, derived from rendang. It has a long shelf-life and needs no refrigeration, a specialty of Kelantan.
Rendang Minang: originated from the Minangkabau people who settled in Negeri Sembilan during the 16th century, but has since evolved from the Sumatran rendang version of the recipe.
Rendang cili api or Rendang Negeri Sembilan or Rendang hijau: greenish-hued rendang, uses cili api instead of red chili that is normally used in other rendang versions, a specialty of Negeri Sembilan.
Rendang Tok: dry beef rendang created by the royal cooks of Perak, incorporates spices that were typically inaccessible to the general population.
Rendang Pahang or opor daging: dark red meat stew cooked with rich spice mix.
Rendang Perak: simpler version of Rendang Tok, a specialty of Perak.
Rendang Rawa: Rawa version of rendang, less complicated in terms of ingredients.
Rendang Kedah: reddish-hued rendang, incorporates the use of red sugar, turmeric leaves, kaffir lime leaves due to the Thai influence on the state cuisine, a specialty of Kedah.
Rendang Kelantan/Terengganu or kerutub daging: slow-cooked meat mixed with a unique spice known as kerutub, coconut milk, kerisik and some palm sugar.
Rendang Nyonya: Peranakan version of rendang, a specialty of Peranakan.
Rendang Sabah: uses white cumin to replace cinnamon and cloves, a specialty of Sabah.
Rendang Sarawak: incorporates the use of turmeric leaves, a specialty of Sarawak.
Rendang Siam: Malay-Siamese version of rendang, incorporates the use of Thai inspired ingredients.
In the Netherlands
Through colonial ties the Dutch are also familiar with rendang and often serve the wet kalio version in the Netherlands—usually as part of a rijsttafel. Indonesian dishes, including rendang, are served in numbers of Indonesian restaurants in Dutch cities, especially The Hague, Utrecht, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
Spaghetti rendang sold in a 7-Eleven convenience store in Jakarta
Rendang bumbu is sometimes used as the base of other fusion dishes. Some chefs in Indonesian sushi establishments for example, have developed a Japanese-Indonesian fusion cuisine with recipes for krakatau roll, gado-gado roll, rendang roll and gulai ramen. Several chefs and food industries have experimented with fusing rendang with sandwiches, burgers and spaghetti. Burger King at one time served their take on a rendang-flavoured burger in their Singapore and Indonesia chains for a limited promotion period. Spaghetti with rendang could also be found in 7-Eleven convenience stores across Indonesia.