Stay True to Tradition

Rumah Gadang by Ryman Irfan

The Indonesian cuisine varies greatly by region and has many different influences. Many regional cuisines exist, often based upon cultural and foreign influences. For example Sumatran cuisine often has Middle Eastern and Indian influences, featuring curried meat and vegetables, while Javanese cuisine is more indigenous.

During my cooking journey, I enjoy cooking different regional dishes. And whenever I cook a regional dish of a certain region, as much as possible I try to follow the “traditional” way of preparing the dish.

Even if this means getting specialized  ingredients or using a special technique or even spend hours in the kitchen, I don’t mind, as long as I can stay true to the tradition.

So far, one of the famous regional dishes from West Sumatra  which I did not dare to cook until recently was Beef Rendang.


Beef Rendang is not an everyday beef dish that one can whip up in a jiffy but it needs time, patience and dedication. This is perhaps the main obstacle for most people ….including myself ……..:-)

The original version of Beef Rendang took hours of cooking; slowly altering the cooking method from boiling to frying as the liquid evaporates.

Let’s Explore More on Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang originally came from “Minangkabau” or “Padang” region of Indonesia with slightly different version from one village to another. Thanks to the ‘merantau’ (=migration) culture of the Minang people, Beef Rendang is now widely available not only throughout Indonesia, but also in neighboring countries like Singapore and Malaysia. 

Beef Rendang was brought into Malaysia by the Minangkabaus from West Sumatra (Indonesia) who settled in Negri Sembilan (Malaysia) and it has since been adopted by Malaysians.

picture from

For those who have never tried Beef Rendang, I can only describe it as “a rich and tender coconut beef stew which is explosively flavorful,” one that is certain to win you over if you taste it…

To cook it, you have to be willing to spend time in the kitchen preparing the spice paste, toasting the grated coconut to make golden toasted coconut, and then patiently cook and stew the meat over very low heat so as to dry up the liquid and make the meat tender.

And……….you will be rewarded handsomely like I did with my first home-made Beef Rendang.

Last week, on 1st September 2011 was the first time for me to cook Beef Rendang. That week was Idulfitri holiday so I got much time to spend in the kitchen.

Before the holiday, I have bought special beef cuts for rendang

and other necessary ingredients

I got the recipe from a friend who’s originally came from Padang, West Sumatra hence her recipe is the authentic Beef Rendang of Padang. I promised her that I would cook Beef Rendang by staying true the tradition.

Here’s the Recipe I followed for my first Beef Rendang:


  • 1.5 liters (6 cups) thick coconut milk
  • 1 turmeric leaf
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, thick bottom part only, outer layer discarded, minced
  • 2 slices of asam gelugor or asam kandis (dried garcinia or tamarind fruit), soaked in warm water to get the juice
  • 1 kg beef topside, cut into bite size cubes
  • 6 tablespoons toasted coconut (*)

Spice Paste:

  • 10-15  red chilies, sliced (the number of chilies used depends on the expected hot level of the dish)
  • 6 shallots, sliced
  • 4 garlic, sliced
  • 2 cm galangal root, peeled and sliced
  • 1.5 cm ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1.5 cm turmeric, peeled and sliced
  • salt to taste
  • palm sugar to taste (optional)

Grind all the spice ingredients using mortar and pestle until smooth


  • Heat the oil in wok, add the spice paste,  and stir-fry them until aromatic.
  • Add the beef and the minced lemongrass and stir for 1 minute.
  • Add the coconut milk, tamarind juice, water, and simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently until the meat is almost cooked.
  • Add the kaffir lime leaves, toasted coconut,  stirring to blend well with the meat.
  • Lower the heat to low and simmer for 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is really tender and the gravy has dried up.
  • Add salt to taste. If desired you add  sugar to taste.

(*) To prepare toasted coconut, just add the grated coconut to a dry wok and stir continuously until they turn golden brown.

Here’s the look of my First Beef Rendang

One important fact about Beef Rendang that I must share with you is ‘it only gets better with time’, so much so that the Minangkabaus save them for months as the complex taste and flavor develop over time.

For home cook, I suggest to serve the Beef Rendang once it is done, but save some leftover as it only gets better overnight. And here’s the look of my Beef Rendang on the second day:


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