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Beef Rendang, a typical Hari Raya dish

When we talk about beef rendang, we smell all the good aroma associated with Hari Raya - the main event in Muslim celebration in Malaysia. (The recipe is written at the end of this page.)

During Hari Raya (the first day after the end of Ramadhan fasting month), the lady of the house will be very busy spring cleaning the house and decorating it with new curtains, furniture and floral arrangements. She would also roll up her sleeves and spend many sleepless nights a few days before the big day to prepare all these delicacies associated with it.

beef rendang
Beef Rendang

There are several types of ketupat (glutinious rice cakes), many versions of beef rendang (chicken and mutton can also be used), hundreds of western-style cookies, cakes and countless traditional crunchy snacks to be prepared.

Oh, it is truly hard work and also costs plenty of money but since the day only comes once a year, who is counting?

It is usually a fun-filled day, with children in their new traditional clothes running around playing with fire crackers and visiting the houses of the neighbors collecting "duit raya". Duit raya literally means "Hari Raya money" is similar in concept like Ang Pow during the Chinese New Year. The difference is, duit raya is given to children only, in green paper envelop and Ang Pow is given to unmarried member of the family, regardless their age in red paper envelope.

Beef Rendang recipe I prepared below is a simplified method. There are many other varieties, involving time consuming preparation and method. In the old days, before the advent of electricity or gas cooker, beef rendang is prepared in a large wok under a typical Malay house with long stilts, cooked with wood fire. It could take all day before the rendang, bubbling slowly in the wok, would be ready to eat. The smell would waft about, making those who were fasting during Ramadhan could not wait for the month to be over so that they could indulge in food again!

The making of beef rendang used to be a community activity, when a cow was slaughtered to feed the whole village, and the meat divided between the villagers. The men butchered and skinned the cow, the women peeled onions, prepared the spices for making rendang and took turns to mind the communal wok where the beef rendang was being cooked. This camaraderie spirit is now a very rare spectacle since most people nowadays are city folks and hardly have time to socialize.

The taste between the old method rendang and my simplified version varies, of course, but for a new beginner cook, this is a good recipe to try out. As with all good rendang, it can be kept up to a week in the refrigerator and if frozen, can last up to a month. This is a rich, wholesome dish and for those who are on a diet, better stay away (if you can!).

Rempah (spice ingredients to be grounded finely):

  • 300g large onions
  • 30g garlic
  • 20g ginger
  • 30g gelanggal

Other ingredients:

  • 8 tbs oil
  • 30g lemongrass, crushed
  • 20g cumin, roasted

  • 20g coriander seeds
  • 2 cm fresh turmeric, peeled and pounded finely
  • 30 g candlenut, pounded finely
  • 80 g kerisik (finely grounded toasted coconut flakes)
  • 2 pieces of kaffir lime leaves
  • 3 tamarind apple slices
  • 1 turmeric leaf, roughly chopped
  • 4 tbs chili paste made from dried chilies
  • 4 tbs meat curry powder
  • 500g boneless beef cubes
  • 5 tbs fresh thick coconut milk
  • 3 tbs gula melaka (sugar made from the nectar of coconut), you can substitute it with demerara sugar or soft light brown sugar
  • Salt to taste


  • Heat oil in a cooking pot over medium fire.
  • Add lemongrass, followed by rempah. Stir fry for 30 seconds.
  • Add cumin and coriander seeds, fresh turmeric, candle nuts and kerisik. Mix well until oil separates.
  • Put in lime and turmeric leaves. Stir-fry for 3 minutes and add chili paste.
  • When mixture is slightly dry, add meat curry powder and tamarind apple slices and continue mixing well for another two minutes.
  • Add beef cubes and stir well until the beef is coated well with rempah mixture.
  • Add coconut milk and turn fire low to simmer.
  • Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until meat is very tender.
  • Season with salt and gula melaka.
  • Serve with ketupat, butter rice or white bread.

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