‘Taste of Indonesia,’ rendang, reigns supreme on Eid Al-Fitr

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JAKARTA: It took Anthony Bourdain only one bite into rendang, the famed Indonesian meat dish, to proclaim: “I could eat that all day.”

The world-renowned chef and storyteller visited Indonesia for a 2018 episode of his “Parts Unknown” travel show, which starts at a restaurant serving traditional dishes from West Sumatra.

After he tastes rendang, the scene cuts to Bourdain reaching out for another serving — much like how Indonesians would do, as few can resist its rich, aromatic flavor.

Sweet, spicy and savory at the same time, this slow-cooked and hearty meat dish is usually served during special events, such as weddings, dinners with important guests, and Lebaran — the Indonesian name for Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

“So many spices are used to make rendang. It’s red chili, shallots, garlic, clove, cumin, anise star, and then ginger, galangal … but the main ingredient is coconut milk,” said Ronny Nugroho Widianto, executive sous chef at JW Marriott Hotel Jakarta.

“I usually cook rendang around six hours, this is the minimum. Cannot be less than that.”

The cooking time ensures that the meat — traditionally beef — becomes tender. Oils and juices come out after two hours, but it takes another few for the meat to absorb the ingredients and reach the desired texture.

“We have to make it on a small flame. Then we constantly stir it every two minutes,” Widianto said. “Let the coconut milk be absorbed by the meat.”

Some of the earliest written records of rendang come from the early 16th century, when merchants from the Minangkabau ethnic group of West Sumatra began to trade with other islands and needed to preserve food for long-distance sea journeys.

The word “rendang” comes from “marandang,” a slow-cooking technique that gives the meat a long shelf life.

Officially recognized by the Indonesian government as one of the country’s five national dishes, it is on CNN’s World’s 50 Best Foods list.

“The taste is unique, rich, simply the best,” said Khairisy Syahdi, a West Sumatra native living in the Indonesian capital.

“At home, we’ll have it for sure.”

For many, the gravy alone carries the full-bodied texture and taste of rendang, making it an ultimate comfort food, and one that Indonesians always crave, wherever they are.

“Even without meat, we can just have it with rice and it’s already delicious,” said Ilfa Kurniati, also a resident of Jakarta.

“Rendang is the taste of Indonesia.”

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