Crispy rendang becomes the new unifying factor
Published on: Sunday, April 15, 2018

By Johan Arriffin
I always wondered what can unify our country where divisive politics and political survival puts us in a situation where the end justify the means.

I have thought of the Rukunnegara, our national flag, our national anthem, badminton and so on – but none seems to bring out strong emotional reactions when compared to food. Malaysians love food and food is our passion. We even talk about what to have for lunch or dinner before even finishing breakfast.

The case in point is the critical judgement of the “rendang” in the MasterChef UK.

When a Malaysian-born woman was eliminated from reality TV show last week because her chicken rendang was not crispy enough, it created an international crisis of some sort.

Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace said Bristol-based Zaleha Kadir Olpin’s chicken rendang needed “crispy” skin. “I like the rendang flavour, there’s a coconut sweetness. However, the chicken skin isn’t crispy.

It can’t be eaten and all the sauce is on the skin so I can’t eat it,” Mr Wallace remarked.

Since that awful judgement day, Malaysians have been venting their anger in the social media cursing the judges for their unforgivable mistakes.

Their reactions are understandable. It’s just like our celebrity Chef Wan judging MasterChef UK on the British national dish “fish and chips” and pronouncing, “Your batter is too crispy, I had trouble biting into it and getting to the fish. It should be soggy and wimpy, I am very sure you can use you imagination to make fish and chips a truly exciting dish”. Such comments would cause an uproar from the British public.

The trouble with Chefs like Wallace, they borrow other nation’s recipes and make variants of the original dishes, calls it a different name and presto, becomes an expert on how mum used to cook the beloved rendang from knowledge passed through generations.

These Chefs will get their coveted Michelin stars and become famous for adopting continental or Asian repertoire in their dishes. British food are so bland that curry has cooked its way into the hearts of the prim and proper Englishmen.

In a reply to a Twitter critic Torode wrote, “Thank you so much for your input .. we could of course argue as to it’s origin and whether chicken is classic or an adaptation”. What a lame reply!

The British should not take the criticisms of our much beloved rendang lightly. Countries have gone to war on lesser things. Due to the seriousness of the matter, the British High Commissioner Vicki Treadell had weighed in on the dish after Malaysians on social media criticised the judges of MasterChef UK.

Questioning the qualifications of the judges she wrote on Twitter, “It can be chicken, lamb or beef.

It is never crispy and should also not be confused with fried chicken, sometimes served with nasi lemak,”

Many Malaysians were grateful for her interventions. Otherwise, the diplomatic protocol for such faux pas is to recall your own country ambassador for consultations. That could hurt the relationship between the two commonwealth countries.

It’s election time, and our leaders are also getting into the act and make them look more humane as a leader.

Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak tweeted a picture of the curry along with the words: “Does anyone eat chicken rendang ‘crispy’? Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad tweeted. “Maybe you are confusing rendang chicken with KFC.”

Citing food like Kangkong and nasi goreng can also bring you ridicule and contempt.

Politicians need to watch out when campaigning. Prime Minister Najib got into trouble on his “Kangkung” example when trying to explain the economics of a common water spinach, people poked fun for weeks and comedians had a field day.

Deputy Finance Minister Ahmad Maslan’s attempt to convince people how to deal with GST using using ingredients that were not subject to the new consumption tax was ridiculed and people even questioned his IQ.

MP Bung Moktar linking Malaysian obesity to economic prosperity was also whacked by the politicians.

Food are used as examples and political talk to stress a point.

Everybody is having a crispy time. Maybe we should just forget about elections and unite the nation around food, Why don’t we have MasterChef cook off between BN and the opposition? Whoever wins can govern the nation for the next four years. This is exactly how boring GE14 is going to be. Same players, different cloth, and nothing much to differentiate between them. The only excitement is that electrifying feeling that change is coming.

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