The Romance of Rendang

Janet DeNeefe rendang version | Photo by Mark Roper
Janet DeNeefe rendang version | Photo by Mark Roper

You would think I would be tired of eating Rendang by now. Only last month I made a long-awaited pilgrimage to Padang and Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, the revered home of Rendang, to savour the glory of Indonesia’s pride and joy.

I ate as much as I could, every day, until the romance almost faded. Almost. But absence makes the heart grow fonder and here I am in Jakarta, at the legendary Rumah Makan Garuda  restaurant, falling in love all over again with Beef Rendang and reminiscing about my time in West Sumatra.

Rumah Makan Garuda | Photo by Janet DeNeefe
Rumah Makan Garuda | Photo by Janet DeNeefe

Its 9am and I am the only customer. Garuda is considered by many to be Jakarta’s finest Padang restaurant and is open 24 hours. While other restaurants have long since closed for the day, Garuda stays open, serving up bowls of Minang specialities until the wee hours. Morning is the quiet time; all the better for me to contemplate my meal. I choose beef rendang, crisp tiny fish, cassava leaves, jackfruit and green chilli sambal.

In the meantime, the staff is preparing food for their enormous take-away lunch trade.

But what is rendang? Think slow cooked chunks of meat, simmered in coconut milk and ground spices, until grainy-dry, unctuous, deeply aromatic and dark as roasted coffee beans. Any meat may be used but beef is the most famous.

Sumatran Rendang
Sumatran Rendang | Photo by Janet DeNeefe

Of course, there are variations across Sumatra. I have tried rendang that is so seductively fragrant it almost takes your breath away and others that are full-bodied, like aged red wine, with the flavour lingering on your palette for hours.

In Medan I tried a delicate  pork rendang but the most surprising for me is egg rendang, shaped like small corn chips, with a mighty rendang flavour. In a roadside shop on the outskirts of Bhukittinggi I saw the laborious process of  making these slivers of flavour and marvelled at the crisp result.

The good news is that Padang restaurants are found all over Indonesia. So you can savour the flavour of rendang and other specialities just about anywhere across the archipelago.


Selamat makan


@copyright Janet DeNeefe 2013

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