Rendang is a spicy meat dish that originated from the Minangkabau people of North Sumatra, and is now commonly served across Indonesia. One of the characteristic foods of Minangkabau culture, Rendang is served at ceremonial occasions, such as weddings and births, and to honour guests into one’s home.
Rendang has always been revered in Minangkabau culture. It has been claimed that the four main ingredients of Rendang represent Minangkabau society as a whole: the meat (daging) symbolises the traditional clan leaders such as nobles, royalty and revered elders; the coconut milk (karambia) symbolises the intellectuals such as teachers and poets; the chilli (lado) symbolises Sharia; and the spice mixture (pemasak) symbolises the rest of Minangkabau society.
I was lucky enough to experience Rendang Daging on my travels in Sumatra in both Padang and Tuktuk near Lake Toba. The meat I ate on both occasions was [allegedly] water buffalo, but I am told regular beef is just as common nowadays. It is possible to find ‘dry’ Rendang in Sumatra, too, but this doesn’t seem as popular as the typical ‘wet’ version doused in coconut milk and juices.
At warungs in other parts of Indonesia, you can find Rendang being sold by the roadside and often Ayam Rendang (chicken) is on the menu, whereas in Bali, I think I saw Babi Rendang (pork) being offered. However, in Sumatra, beef and water buffalo are the main forms of meat for rendang – and it’s not just rendang for which these buffalo are used!
Sumatrans eat Water Buffalo for other dishes, including Saksang and Dadiah, which are two popular delicacies from Batak and Minangkabau cultures. Dadiah is a traditional fermented milk/yogurt and is made by pouring fresh, raw buffalo milk into a bamboo tube capped with a banana leaf, and allowing it to ferment spontaneously at room temperature for two days. Dadiah is usually eaten/drank for breakfast, but can also be eaten with hot rice and sambal as a daytime snack.
Saksang is a spicy dish from the Bataks of Indonesia. It is made from water buffalo meat that has been stewed in its own blood, along with coconut milk and spices such as lime and chilli. Saksang has special significance to the Bataks, as it is an obligatory dish in Batak marriage celebrations.
Although I didn’t try either Saksang or Dadiah (yuk!), it was still good to learn a little bit about he indigenous cuisines of this part of Sumatra. Not many people know much about Sumatran food (compared to Javan or Balinese food) so it’s always good to get an overview – but who would want to be a water buffalo in Sumatra, eh?