Zaleha Kadir Olpin, a quarterfinalist for MasterChef U.K., was eliminated on April 2 after judges Gregg Wallace and John Toldore disapproved of her traditional South Asian chicken rendang dish because it was “not crispy.”
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak questioned the judges’ comment in a tweet on April 2, saying, “Does anyone eat chicken rendang ‘crispy’?” On the same day, opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad joined Razak in a rare moment of agreement, postulating that “Maybe [the judges]are confusing rendang chicken with KFC.” Soon after, even with the upcoming Malaysian June general elections creating all sorts of social and political tension, South Asian food lovers united to spread the #rendangate trend. The issue attracted serious international attention.
South Asian cuisine prides itself on one of its most famous dishes, rendang, which is said to have originated in West Sumatra, Indonesia, among the Minangkabau people, a predominantly Muslim group known for its matrilineal social structure. But, the dish is simultaneously regarded as a Malay national cuisine. The coconut-milk-based, heavily spiced dish has received multiple accolades including the top spot on the CNN Your Pick: World’s 50 Best Foods.
Wallace, one of two MasterChef U.K. judges, attempted to defend his comments on Good Morning Britain on April 4, but when prompted about why he said “crispy,” he dodged the question, saying that “the best cooks will always go through.” As CNN reports, Torode seemed understand how to cook a rendang, but his ignorance of rendang’s origin made the matter worse. In a deleted tweet, Torode wrote, “Maybe rendang is Indonesian…Love this!! Brilliant how excited you are all getting .. Namaste.” Namaste is a term used in India and not Malaysia or Indonesia.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman called out the judges for “whitesplaining” and accused them of playing a role in neocolonial aftershocks in South Asia. However, in the same Facebook post on April 3, he stated that the judges “have succeeded in a way that many of us politicians could not, to unite Malaysians in the most divisive of times.”