MasterChef UK angers netizens in Malaysia, Indonesia over rendang
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MasterChef UK angers netizens in Malaysia, Indonesia over rendang

BRITISH cooking show MasterChef has angered netizens in Malaysia and Indonesia over its elimination of a contestant because her chicken rendang “wasn’t crispy”.

Zaleha Kadir Olpin, a Malaysian-born British resident who cooked the Southeast Asian nation’s signature nasi lemak during the quarter finals of the BBC reality show, was criticised by several of the judging panel for the chicken rendang component of the coconut rice dish.

“The chicken skin isn’t crispy, it can’t be eaten,” said Gregg Wallace, a TV presenter and one of the show’s judges. “All the sauce is on the skin I can’t eat.”

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“I think the chicken rendang on the side is a mistake,” added Australian celebrity chef John Torode. “It hasn’t had enough time to cook down and become lovely and soft and fall apart. Instead the chicken itself is just tough and it’s not really flavoursome.”

“I had really worked a lot. Really worked hard today and I thought they would like it,” said Zaleha, who was later eliminated from the competition. She described being “gutted” by the judges’ decision.

Aspects of culinary and cultural heritage are often a point of contention between Indonesians and Malaysians, with rendang no exception.

While the dish originated from the Minangkabau people in West Sumatra, an island of Indonesia,  migration around Malay archipelago over the centuries has meant it is also a staple dish for Malay communities in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and southern Thailand.

Wallace doubled down on his criticism: “What disappointed me was the chicken skin wasn’t cooked and the flavour, the rendang sauce was on the skin.”

But Zaleha’s elimination drew the ire of both Malaysians and Indonesians online.“Chicken Rendang and Crispy in the same sentence. White people are insane y’all,” tweeted one netizen.

“Bonding over rendang injustice is peak ASEAN culture,” remarked another. Many criticised the two judges for being ignorant and even colonial in their criticism of Zaleha’s dish.

The British Empire colonised Malaysia for almost two centuries.

“Rendang is not merely a dish, but a method and a concept, the word rendang came from Minangkabau word ‘randang/marandang’ … the method of cooking for a long time over a small fire, caramelizing the beautiful coconut milk and spices,” explained Arie Parikesit, host of prominent Indonesian cooking show Kelana Rasa.

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The British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Vicki Treadell, later weighed in tweeting at Wallace and Torode: “Rendang is an iconic national dish not to be confused with Indonesian options … it is never crispy & should not be confused with the fried chicken sometimes served with nasi lemak.”

Even Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak joined the pile-on. “Where do people eat chicken rendang that is crispy?” he tweeted.

“Brilliant how excited you are all getting,” responded a defiant Torode, who has previously hosted a 10-part food program named Malaysian Adventure on the Good Food Channel, to an angry Malaysian observer via Twitter. “Namaste.”

Namaste is a common greeting on the Indian Subcontinent. It is not a word used in Indonesian or Malay.

“One of her greatest ambitions in life is to teach people how to cook,” says Zaleha’s bio on the BBC’s MasterChef website.

Perhaps one day she can teach Torode how to cook a real rendang.