Can rendang really be crispy? Does it need to be crispy? After all, why fix something that’s not broken? We’re talking about a dish that has been voted as the world’s most delicious food. These are questions many may have asked in the wake of the “rendang-gate” debacle that arose after a judge on the cooking show MasterChef UK said a contestant’s chicken rendang wasn’t “crispy” enough.
However, certain innovative chefs in Malaysia and Singapore, not bothered by traditionalist notions of cuisine, and perhaps riding on a wave of moment marketing, have gone ahead and created their own versions of “crispy chicken rendang”. Being the curious rendang lover (and all-round glutton) that I am, I thought to myself: Why not try some? What could be the harm in it?
And so I found myself at Rumah Rasa, which serves Indonesian cuisine. It was purportedly one of the first restaurants in Singapore to create “crispy chicken rendang”. Others like CreatureS Restaurant and the IKEA restaurant have also claimed to be serving this erstwhile fictional dish.
The rendang was served with nasi lemak telang (nasi lemak tinged with blue colouring), ikan bilis, fried egg, belinjau crackers, cashew nuts and sambal sauce, all of which cost $10.90.
In its press release, the restaurant says the dish, which will be offered only until the end of April, is prepared by marinating chicken thigh in rendang paste and leaving it overnight. It is then steam-baked before being deep-fried, and cooked in rendang sauce again before being served.
However, the chicken I ate tasted more like grilled chicken in the style of Indonesian ayam bakar, instead of having the crispy texture one would expect if it had been fried.
The meat did not have the flavour of rendang rempah, even though it was said to have been marinated overnight in rendang paste before cooking. Even the so-called rendang gravy served on top of the chicken thigh did not really taste of the fabled spice-filled curry – in any case, there was too little gravy.
The nasi lemak, as well as other side dishes, were rather disappointing, too. The fried egg came without yolk. The rice did not have the fragrance of coconut, and the ikan bilis was very bland – albeit very crispy. I had to dip the ikan bilis in the sweet sambal sauce to give it some flavour. The cashew nuts with gado gado-style cream sauce were quite good, though, and a pretty interesting combination.
If I had not known that the chicken was supposed to be “crispy rendang”, it might not have been so disappointing. It could be that other chefs have devised better recipes for the seemingly impossible dish. Or, maybe, crispy chicken rendang is really just supposed to remain in the realm of fantasy.
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