Singapore Infopedia


Rendang is a popular dish made with meat stewed in coconut milk and spices. Believed to originate in West Sumatra, Indonesia, by the Minangkabau people, the dish is commonly found in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.1

The meat – usually beef but sometimes chicken or mutton – is stewed in coconut milk with spices such as ginger, chilligalangal (blue ginger), lemongrass, garlic, shallot, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric. A wide pot is preferred to a deep one so as to allow the milk to evaporate during a slow boil of up to three hours. The heat has to be sufficiently low to prevent the liquid from overboiling and the milk from curdling. On the other hand, the meat could burn if the fire is too low. When cooked the right way, the liquid will thicken into the distinctive rendang gravy.2

The cooking process softens, tenderises and adds flavour to the meat, which is braised in the spices. In addition, the spices used during the cooking process help to preserve the dish, allowing it to remain fit for consumption for two to three days without refrigeration, and up to two weeks in the refrigerator.3 The dish is often eaten with rice or ketupat (steamed pressed rice).4

Rendang is believed to originate from West Sumatra, Indonesia, by the Minangkabau people. The name comes from the Indonesian word merandang or randang, which means "slowly", referring to the long cooking process. The dish was likely influenced by a variety of culinary influences, such as Indian, Islam and the Portuguese.5

Traditionally, water buffalo and beef were used as the meat. Meat from water buffalos, however, tend to be tougher than beef. To make the dish more palatable, buffalo meat was braised in coconut milk and spices on low temperature over a long period of time until it became a dry curry. In the olden days, rendang was wrapped in plantain or banana leaves for consumption on long journeys.The long shelf life of rendang might have facilitated its spread to other Malay regions such as Malaya.7

Rendang is considered a celebratory meal and served during special occasions such as Hari Raya.8 It is commonly sold at Malay food hawker stalls in Singapore as one of the dishes accompanying rice.9

In 2018, a judge on the show MasterChef UK commented that a contestant's rendang dish was not crispy enough. This comment caused a furore among Singaporeans, Malaysians and Indonesians, and also inspired some local eateries to come up with a crispy version of rendang.11

The common ingredients of the rempah (spice pastefor rendang were often described in 19th-century newspaper reports, and early travelogues mentioned regional variants of rendang.12 In his book, Life in the Forests of the Far East (1862), Spenser Buckingham St John described chicken rendang cooked in Borneo, Burma (now Myanmar) and Siam (now Thailand). The paste for the dish was made by pounding chilli, turmeric, coriander seed and white cumin together, after which some finely sliced onions were browned and fried with the spice paste and a little water. Chicken was then added to the mixture, along with coconut milk, and cooked for some time. In the Burmese version, ground chilli was mixed with turmeric, onion or garlic. Some sour juice was then added along with coconut milk, and the meat or fish stewed in it. The Siamese version had ginger in the mixture. All three versions were eaten with rice.13

Bonny Tan

1. Rosalind Mowe, ed., Southeast Asian Specialties: A Culinary Journey (Culinaria: Konemann, 1999), 199, 280 (Call no. RSING 641.5959 SOU); Fadly Rahman, “Tracing the Origins of Rendang and Its Development,” Journal of Ethnic Foods 7, no. 28 (2020),
2. Mowe, Southeast Asian Specialties, 199, 280.
3. James Oseland, Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking From the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore (New York: Norton, 2006). 102–4. (Call no. RSING 641.5959 OSE); Muthia Nurmufida et al., “Rendang: The Treasure of Minangkabau,” Journal of Ethnic Foods 4, no. 4 (December 2017),
4. Mowe, Southeast Asian Specialties, 199.
5. Hedy Khoo, “Rendang Facts,” Straits Times, 8 April 2018, 20 (From Newslink via NLB eResources);  Rahman, “Tracing the Origins of Rendang”; Nurmufida et al., “Rendang,” 232–35.
6. Oseland, Cradle of Flavor, 102–4; Mowe, Southeast Asian Specialties, 199, 280; Nurmufida et al., “The Treasure of Minangkabau.”
7. Rahman, “Tracing the Origins of Rendang”; Nurmufida et al., “Rendang.”
8. Mowe, Southeast Asian Specialties, 200.
9. Ronald Rajan, “Pride of the Padang,” Project Eyeball, 4 May 2001, 18; Geoffrey Eu, “Padang Palate,” Business Times, 29 August 2009, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Rahman, “Tracing the Origins of Rendang.”
11. Rebecca Lynn Tan, “Rendang Renditions,” Straits Times, 8 April 2018, 20; Lydia Lam, “Feathers Unruffled, Local Eateries Serve Up Crispy Chicken Rendang,” Straits Times, 10 April 2018. (From Newslink)
12. Thomas Forrest, A Voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas, from Balambangan (London: G. Scott, 1780), 114. (Microfilm NL 25740)
13. Spenser St John, Life in the Forests of the Far East, vol. 2. (London: Smith, Elder, 1862), 43.

The information in this article is valid as of April 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

Warong Nasi Pariaman


It is believed that Warong Nasi Pariaman is the oldest surviving stall in Singapore that serves nasi padang – rice with mixed dishes, originating from the city of Padang in West Sumatra, Indonesia. The stall is famous for its authentic Padang dishes, particularly beef rendang, which is cooked without coriander...

Sabar Menanti Restaurant


Located in the nasi padang belt of the famous Kandahar Street in Kampong Glam, Sabar Menanti is a well-loved Malay restaurant serving authentic Minangkabau (from West Sumatra, Indonesia) dishes. The restaurant is aptly named Sabar Menanti, for in English it means “wait patiently”, which one has to do as the...



Ponggal or Pongal, also known as Makara Sankranti, is celebrated in mid-January by South Indians as a festival marking the rice harvest. Pongal, a mixture of sweet boiled rice is made and offered to Surya, the Sun God. The name is derived from the Tamil word pongu, meaning “boil over”...

Lion dance


The lion dance is a pugilistic performance dating back to more than 1,500 years. Its performance during auspicious occasions, such as the launch of new businesses and shops, is believed to bring good fortune and wealth. The lion dance is also performed during the Chinese New Year (CNY) because of...

Hainanese community


The Hainanese in Singapore originated from Hainan province in China. According to the 2010 population census, the Hainanese community is the fifth-largest Chinese dialect group, and constitutes less than 7 percent of the Chinese population in Singapore. ...

Food courts


Food courts in Singapore are air-conditioned food centres that serve inexpensive cooked food, drinks and desserts. Each food court houses an array of stand-alone food stalls that are managed and rented out by a food court operator. Food courts serve predominantly local hawker food and drinks but international cuisines like...

K. F. Seetoh


Seetoh Kok Fye (b. 1962, Singapore–), better known as K. F. Seetoh, is a prominent local food consultant, photographer, writer and television host. He is best known for creating the popular hawker food guide Makansutra in 1998....

Curry puff


A curry puff is a deep-fried or baked, semi-circular pastry filled with curried fillings. The origins of this snack are uncertain and attributed variously to the influences of the British Cornish pasty, the Portuguese empanada and the Indian samosa. ...

Chinese New Year delicacies


Various cakes, fruits, sweetmeats, nuts and delicacies are offered during the Chinese New Year as part of the festivities celebrated in Singapore by those of Chinese descent. These items are served primarily because of puns in their names, as they have an auspicious double meaning. ...

Roti prata


A soft and yet crisp flatbread, roti prata (or paratha) is often eaten together with mutton or dhal curry. It is sold mostly by Indian Muslim stallholders at coffeeshops and hawker centres. There are two common types of roti prata sold in Singapore – plain prata and prata with egg....