The West Sumatra Tourism Office held a Rendang Festival at the Padang Cultural Park last June. The participants competed to produce the best dish described by CNN as 'the most delicious in the world'. Rendang is a dish that is unique to the Minang area. Family recipes, handed down from mothers to daughters, are well-kept secrets. Although the ingredients may be the same, each area comes up with a different product in taste and color. One area known as the 'Rendang Capital' in the province of West Sumatra is Payakumbuh. Tempo English correspondent Febrianti reports from West Sumatra on how a community rallied to achieve this top culinary ranking.
Smoke filled the kitchen of the Dapoer Rendang Riry like a steambath parlor. Four stoves held huge cooking pots. A man stirred in coconut milk mixed with spices in one of the pots, holding a spatula half a meter long with both hands. When the coconut milk began to boil, a large bowl of eggs and flour were poured into it. Beside him, a woman mixed eggs with tapioca, to form thin round wraps. The scrambled eggs were then cut into pieces to make egg rendang. The other two stoves were slow-cooking big pots of shredded beef rendang, each holding some 10 kilos of the spicy delicacy. Its appetizing aroma wafted out of the building and down the road ensuring the rendang business of continued sales, not only among the local residents but aficionados elsewhere on the archipelago.
What is rendang and why has it gained so much popularity in the past few years? There are not too many definitions to describe this spicy beef dish cooked in coconut milk, the most authentic and arguably the most delicious variety originating from the Minang area of West Sumatra, although it is claimed by peoples around the Malay archipelago.
Dapoer Rendang Riry, in the West Sumatra town of Payakumbuh also known as the country's rendang capital gets very busy on holidays, such as when Tempo visited the place, two weeks ago. "We cook 15 kilograms of beef, 300 eggs, and 15 kilograms of beef lungs daily. They are processed into egg rendang, shredded beef rendang and lung rendang," said Haris Budiman, the owner. Apart from selling it from his home on Jalan Tan Malaka, his rendang is also available at gift outlets in Payakumbuh and Bukittinggi. Some are sent to other cities like Padang, Pekanbaru, and as far away as Jakarta. Each month, the seven-staffed home industry registers a turnover of Rp150 million.
Dapoer Rendang Riry is just one among a dozen rendang producers on Jalan Tan Malaka. Five of them have their own outlets including Rendang Erika and Rendang Yolanda. Yet, the road to Limapuluh Kota and Pasamana regencies is not the only place where you can find rendang. In the city of Payakumbuh itself, on Jalan Puti Bungsu 16 to be exact, there is Rendang Nikmat, whose cooking emerged as the winners of the West Sumatra Rendang Festivals for two successive years.
"In one day, we process 20 kilograms of beef, 15 kilograms of lungs, and 80 eggs," said Fahdia Ilham, the owner. Her dry beef lung and shredded beef rendang are sold at Rp40,000 per pack of 250 grams, while egg rendang is sold at Rp15,000 per pack. "But we're ready to get orders for beef rendang and pounded rendang. Many people also like wet (saucy) rendang, not just during the fasting month of Ramadhan and Idul Fitri festivities," added Fahdia, making his spiel.
Rendang Nikmat also exports its product to Batam, Bandung, Pekanbaru, Surabaya, and some even manage to reach the United States. "People buy them to send it there. Others ask to have it delivered to Japan," she said. "This rendang business is very profitable because people everywhere are now seeking to buy rendang," noted Haris.
Payakumbuh has become a rendang paradise. Located 30 kilometers from Bukittinggi, it is the only town where most of its population are involved in producing rendang commercially. Data from the Trade Office of Payakumbuh shows there are over 30 rendang business units in the 80.43-square-kilometer city. Fifteen small and medium-scale enterprises have been licensed by the Food and Drug Control Agency (BPOM) and the rest are small-scale units selling in plastic containers.
What makes it even more unique is the large varieties of rendang dishes. Traditionally, the main ingredients for rendang is beef or water-buffalo meat. But in Payakumbuh they also produce rendang made of fish, eel, beef lung, snakehead fish and the shredded variety.
Who are its buyers? Rendang is usually bought by the local people working in the surrounding areas, longing for home cooking from their villages. "When I return to my village, I always buy a lot to replenish my supplies. Shredded beef rendang is delicious, crisp and dry, going very nicely as a complement to rice," said Olvi Juwita, now living in Muko-Muko, Bengkulu. But rendang is not only for those working outside the producing centers. "Every week I buy three packs of beef lung rendang," said Rita, a resident of Payakumbuh.
Rendang is also bought in large amounts by tourists in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra. The special gift-shop Christin Hakim on Jalan Nipah, Padang, in a week can sell 300 boxes of dry rendang made in Payakumbuh. The Keripik Balado Shirley, another store in the provincial capital, is also crowded with buyers looking to buy Payakumbuh's rendang. "During holidays, sales can reach 500 boxes a week," said Shirley, the owner.
What brought on the rendang boom in Payakumbuh? "The community here is quick to notice opportunities," said Nur Einis Nawardi, 70, owner of Bundo catering services. Most rendang is based on the recipe handed down through generations. "But it used to be made only on Idul Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), because of the large quantities of meat sacrificed. The present generation sees it as a business opening," said Nur Einis. Abdul Samad, Head Payakumbuh's Trade and Industry Office, shared the view. "Take a look at Bukittinggi. Nearly all the dishes come from Payakumbuh," he said.
Payakumbuh Mayor Josrizal Zain said the ingredients for rendang was one of the factors contributing to the growth of the rendang business. "We've had modern cattle breeding places," he pointed out. Breeders find it easy to get frozen semen. They only need to pay a Rp7,000 administration fee and field officers come to inseminate them. Every day about 15 to 20 cows are slaughtered.
Besides, the other ingredients like coconuts, chili and other spices are locally abundant, at low prices. For comparison, a coconut in Padang costs Rp4,000 while in Payakumbuh it is around Rp1,800-2,000. "I supply 200 coconuts daily from my plantation in Nagari Simpang Sugiran to rendang producers," said Ramulus, 60.
But the success has not been instant. The rendang industry actually began 20 years ago. Its fame came about by accident. "We frequently held embroidery demonstrations. But then Minang workers from other regions who came to see our displays always asked us to bring along some home-made rendang," said Samad. Finally, to every event, Samad would bring a bit of rendang. The government also began to help in guiding small-scale business units.
In 2004, there was an order for 100 boxes of rendang from Batam. To meet the demand, the Industry and Trade Office of Payakumbuh gathered 13 business units under their care and formed the Rendang Association of Payakumbuh headed by Nur Einis.
However, this effort did not last long. Several times the quality of the rendang produced failed to meet standard requirements and the food was often rejected. Gradually the association became inactive and only sold the rendang during exhibitions. Fortunately, its members branched out on their own to produce the rendang themselves.
The Industry and Trade Office also decided to intervene, providing packaging materials at lower prices, handing the required business licenses, certificates from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), barcodes, and regularly inviting businessmen to join their promotional events. Fahdia, who started her rendang business in 2002, acknowledged the government's support. "My business grew after using (the government supplied) packets three years ago. We were also able to consign the product to malls because they were officially licensed, declared permissible by the MUI, and carried barcodes," she said.
The problem of containers was always constraining. "Formerly the price of cartons was too high for small-scale businesses. It cost Rp5,000 per carton. We ordered in large quantities so the price was reduced to Rp3,000," said Samad. Now the expensive packaging material is aluminum foil, for the wet (saucy) kind of rendang. "We have to buy per bale. It costs Rp200,000. We're negotiating with sellers to reduce it to Rp150,000," Samad explained. "Small-scale businessmen can't negotiate these things; they need government help."
According to Fahdia, it requires large business capital to use good packaging. "We once tried to deliver the food to Australia, but we were rejected because they wouldn't buy it in the carton containers we have now. They wanted to have it canned," said Fahdia.
In addition to the problem of containers, Samad wants to put one more thing in place. He wants to gather all rendang traders in one central area. "We're building a promotion center in front of the City Hall," said Samad. "Hopefully, they won't be scattered all over any more."
No. 47/12, July 17, 2012