southeast asia

I’m often asked what is my favorite dish to prepare; it basically comes with the territory in this line of work. While it’s hard to choose a favorite, Beef Rendang often comes to mind – there’s truly no taste like it.

Rendang is a dry curry that originated among the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra and later spread throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. Its age is unknown, but historians have traced its origin as far back as 500 years. There are three recognized forms of rendang in Minangkabau culture, each depending on the cooking time: a pale, lightly cooked curry known as gulai; a browned but still liquid curry called kalio; and a rich, dry, dark brown dish called rendang, the version prepared in this recipe. In other countries, most notably Malaysia and the Netherlands, the rendang most often served is closer to kalio. While its extended cooking time can be a test of patience, it’s well worth the wait; the aroma and overwhelming richness of rendang are unforgettable.

I first published a rendang recipe nearly four years ago, and it’s made some slight but significant changes since then. Earlier this year I made a batch, and took the photo you see above – it quickly became one of my favorite photos of the year, and so I figured it was a good excuse to share the updated recipe. For the past year or two, this has been the version we’ve been making at home, as it has fewer steps and comes together very quickly.

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Ikan Bakar is a popular grilled fish dish (say that 3x fast) in Indonesia and Malaysia, usually sold by street vendors. The fish is marinated in sambal – a Southeast Asian chili-based condiment – and grilled over banana leaves. Popular fishes used for the dish include tilapia, skate, snapper, sea bass, or stingray.

While this is a very exotic-sounding dish, it’s surprising that all of the ingredients can be easily found during a trip to your local Asian market. Banana leaves are commonly sold frozen in large sheets for very cheap – usually a dollar will get you as many as 20 leaves. Bear in mind that frozen banana leaves are more brittle than fresh, and don’t hold up to heat as well – so you’ll want to get plenty of them, at least five leaves per fish.

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