The world’s tastiest curry

The year is 2006. I’m travelling to Lake Minangau, a crater lake in West Sumatra,

The year is 2006. I’m travelling to Lake Minangau, a crater lake in West Sumatra, when my bus stops for a lunch break at a truck prevent edged by grotty cafeterias.

I pick a single at random and wander within. In between the store window and a lace curtain are cabinets lined with plates of cooked meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and curries – precisely the kind of things my health practitioner warned me about in Southeast Asia. But I’m bloody hungry and truth be informed, it smells really fantastic.

I have no notion what the woman at the counter says to me but I nod my head. She heaps a bunch of rice on a plate, pulls again the curtain and turns to confront me – my cue to purchase. I level at the most secure goods: some fried rooster, tofu, a few satay sticks and extensive beans whilst steering apparent of the curries that have probably been sitting down there all day.

Rendang, the world’s tastiest curry. Picture: Ian Neubauer

But the lady doesn’t treatment for my to start with-globe sensitivities. Ahead of handing me the plate, she spoons a ladle of meaty brown curry proper on top rated of the rice, infusing it with thick dark gravy that appears to be like like utilised motor oil. I shoot her a crooked smile, get the plate and stroll to my table.

Immediately after taking in the chicken, I nibble cautiously at some of the now wet copper-colored rice. Inside a fraction of a 2nd my gustatory cortex – the brain composition liable for the perception of flavor – overloads with sensory details about the intense multi-layered flavours operating riot on my mouth. Quickly I’m practically shovelling it down, higher on a hurry of hitherto not known flavours and aromas contained in this extensively disagreeable wanting nevertheless incredible dish. It truly is spicy just one minute, tangy the subsequent, then sweet and bitter, a psychedelic ping-pong of complementary flavours that outmanoeuvred any curry I might tasted ahead of.

Its name? Rendang.

The Rendang War

Produced by the Minangkabau individuals of Western Sumatra, rendang is a caramelised meat curry decreased in coconut milk and laced with an orgy of spices: chilli, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, ginger, galangal and from time to time factors like turmeric, candlenuts and cinnamon sticks.

Infinite variations of rendang are created across Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and in Southeast Asian dining establishments all above the planet. But the rendangs I identified in Australia following my initial journey to Indonesia in no way tasted very ideal. An esteemed dish traditionally eaten at weddings, funerals and to split the speedy in the course of Ramadan, rendang takes the greatest section of a day to prepare. The recipe represents the patience and persistence of the Minangkabau men and women – an anathema to the effectiveness-pushed way of life of the West.

The only way I could get a real rendang fix was in the course of more and more regular outings to Indonesia. Soon after leaving the airport, I would do is check with my taxi driver to quit at the closest Padang cafe – Padang being the cash of West Sumatra and namesake the array of curries, soups and fried meals produced by the Minangkabau people.

Nevertheless now that I live in Indonesia I’m a whole lot fussier about the place I eat. I am fast to dismiss modern interpretations like the rendang burgers I saw in a Jakartan cafe and the rendang lasagne which is surfaced in Bali. I wasn’t shocked when a poll of 35,000 people saw rendang top CNN’s yearly list of the ‘World’s 50 most delightful foods’ for the next time in 2017. And I chuckled in excess of ‘rendangate‘ – the diplomatic debacle that erupted when a judge on MasterChef Uk slammed a Malaysian-born contestant’s chicken rendang because it wasn’t crispy.

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Some of the ingredients employed in creating rendang. Photograph: Ian Neubauer

“Where do people today eat chicken rendang that is crispy?” then-Malaysian Key Minister Najib Razak tweeted. Included Vicki Treadell, the British Significant Commissioner in Malaysia: “It can be rooster, lamb or beef [but] it is by no means crispy.”

But right here in Indonesia, the consensus was the two the Brits and Malaysians received it improper.

The Rendang Legend

According to legend, rendang was formulated by the wives of Minangkabau adult men who left their villages in look for of fortune abroad and essential healthy food items that would not spoil on the road. Wrapped in banana leaves and designed from buffalo, tough and sinewy meat beautifully suited to sluggish-cooking, buffalo rendang lasts up to a month without the need of refrigeration. The name rendang is truly derived from merendang – gradual-cooking in the Minangkabau language.

The recipe advanced as the Minangkabau ventured across Southeast Asia, with poultry and seafood thrown into the blend. I after had a gobsmackingly good bluefin tuna rendang in the Spice Islands in Indonesia’s considerably east, while cooks in Padang have perfected a vegan rendition based mostly on oyster mushrooms. Indonesia’s most famous chef and food items diplomat William Wongso raves about his bat rendang, saying the meat from the fruit-having animal is a little bit sweet and fairly balanced. He’s made rendang with camel meat in Saudi Arabia, wildebeest rendang in Namibia and rendang with camel meat in Saudi Arabia. 

But for the vast military of Indonesian cooks who invest hrs selecting and prodding deliver and standing above a scorching stove, only pink meat can tolerate the prolonged cooking time of rendang: buffalo if it truly is all they can find the money for, pork or duck if it really is offered, although mainly they use beef.

I wrote to Wongso, who’s 72 and travels relentlessly to prepare dinner at festivals and private dinners for ambassadors and earth leaders, to cook me some beef rendang. He is however to reply. But as fortune experienced it I bumped into Wongso’s protégé, Theodora Poeradisastra, at the Ubud Meals Pageant in Bali earlier. A chef, foodstuff writer and cooking teacher who divides her time amongst Bali and Italy, she agreed to allow me watch her cook a Wongso rendang from scratch.

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William Wongso’s protégé, Theodora Poeradisastra Picture: Ian Neubauer

Perfectly, not just from scratch. In the villages of Indonesia, cooks will start off by breaking open up coconuts in excess of a steel spike, grating out the coconut meat and pressing it into milk. Poeradisastra cuts two hrs off the cooking time by obtaining coconut milk from the grocery store instead.

The Rendang Protégé

There are nonetheless no shortcuts when it comes to grinding the spices it have to be completed by hand making use of a mortar and pestle. “It’s popular knowledge that if you bash spices as an alternative of putting them an electric powered blender, additional of the important oils are launched,” Poeradisastra explains. “But I question if even the most famed Padang places to eat nevertheless do it this way. I mean, how can they when they are building 300 servings a night time? Which is why homemade rendang always tastes superior than consuming out.”

There is even an purchase to the crushing, commencing with the more durable spices like ginger first and softer spices like chilli past. When cooking rendang for Westerners with minimal tolerance to spicy foods, Poeradisastra meticulously gets rid of the seeds and white membrane inside every single chilli to mitigate its efficiency. “You still get the fragrance and a little bit of the spiciness even though not also a lot. But rendang has to be spicy. If not, it really is not rendang,” she says.

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Poeradisastra crushing the spices with her mortar and pestle. Photograph: Ian Neubauer

Two hrs go until finally Poeradisastra is prepared to get started cooking. Just after cubing the beef she sears it – a Western culinary system she warns will see any West Sumatran cook looking at this publication toss it in the bin. “They by no means deviate from recipes handed down to them from their grandmothers. They’d hardly ever aspiration of it,” she states.

Following, she stir-fries the spice paste in coconut oil, incorporating aromatic leaves like kaffir lime and turmeric and coconut milk. When it is really thickened, she adds the seared meat and spends the upcoming four hrs stirring. “It will adhere to the base and that is what we want – the caramelisation approach that gives it the toasty flavour,” she states. “But you have to scrape and stir normally so it will not melt away.”

Six hours go just before Poeradisastra’s rendang is all set, nevertheless it’s continue to not ready to be served. “It wants to rest right away to give the spices time to marry and for the juices to get soaked into the meat,” she claims.

But there is certainly no keeping me back. The kitchen is screaming with the exact same deep and sensual aromas I arrived throughout 13 years back in West Sumatra when I very first tasted this ridiculously flavoursome and addictive dish. I need my rendang fix. I need it now.

– Asia Media Centre