I’m not sure if this ‘paste showdown’ series will become a thing, but I actually have enjoyed the two that we’ve done—with the previous one published about a year ago. It garnered a lot of discussion and engagement with all of you that I felt that it’d be fun to recall the showdown again this year, but done with a comparison of rendang pastes. Why rendang? Because it is our National Day month, and also, it’s one of those finicky traditional dishes that I’m sure many of us dread to prep for (isn’t that what all these marvellous instant pastes are for, anyway?).
So, here we are with four commonly found brands of rendang pastes, namely Prima Taste, Golden Chef, Mak Nyonya, and Dancing Chef. I found many others over the following weeks after I’d bought my initial four packets, but it would take me far too long to cover all of them, and also require too much of a sacrifice to be eating rendang daily for weeks.
With each rendang paste, I followed the instructions and used the recommended quantity of beef, with my choice of cut being beef chuck. Although all of them merely instructed me to leave the rendang simmering for less than 30 minutes, I went ahead to let it simmer for around 1.5 to 2 hours to really extract all the flavours and get the beef as tender as possible. Also, for this comparison, I took into account these three elements: taste, convenience, and aroma.
The instructions by Dancing Chef are pretty straightforward, although I didn’t add the salam leaves as they additionally suggest. Another thing, is that they didn’t state how long one should be simmering this rendang rendition for—15 minutes? 30 minutes? 3 hours?. It’s a guessing game that resulted in me deciding that I’d cook all four versions for at least 1.5 hours for consistency.
However, because they require you to purchase additional ingredients such as kaffir lime leaves, dessicated coconut powder, and lemongrass, this pre-mix might not be the first one you’d grab if you’re looking to cook rendang on the fly.
Instantly, my kitchen was filled with potent fumes of rendang; I hadn’t even begun to add water or coconut milk and already the fragrance was making me excitedly hungry to dig in. Also, the aroma of this pre-mix leaned towards the nuttier side, with a robust earthiness that stood out amongst all four brands.
After allowing it to simmer for close to 2 hours, the gravy had reduced to a thick, slick sauce, perfect for coating a bed of hot rice. I marvelled at how incredibly tender the beef had gotten, giving myself a pat on the back for nailing the cooking time. As for the taste, it carried immense depth, with the spices coming through pronounced and hearty.
It reminds me of the sort of rendang you’d enjoy at your best friend’s parents’ place, where you’d sneakily go for seconds or thirds because you know you’ll never enjoy the same anywhere else.
This gets a solid 5/5 from me; I would happily re-purchase this only to make a larger batch and portion it, so I can enjoy the rest later. Considering it’s a pre-mix, you can’t expect the moon and the stars, but it certainly surpassed my expectations. I, for one, wouldn’t believe someone if they cooked this and told me it comes from an instant mix.
At first glance, I see, once again, that I’m required to purchase lime leaves, turmeric leaves, and lemongrass to complement this paste, which might prove a burden for those who prefer fuss-free rendang pastes. Also, it states that total cooking time is only around 30 minutes, which raises questions with regards to how tender the meat will be, and how flavourful the rendang will really turn out.
May I add, I’m also surprised this pre-mix doesn’t call for coconut milk at all? And that it states chicken only and not beef? So many questions. But I shall proceed.
Strangely enough, Golden Chef’s rendang paste didn’t exude as much an aroma as Dancing Chef. In fact, this paste’s aroma was muted and dull, even with the sliced lemongrass being stir-fried first with the paste. The colour here was also noticeably yellowish-brown compared to the dark brown of the previous paste.
Instantly, upon plating, this recipe resulted in rendang that’s watery and underwhelming. I couldn’t enjoy drenching my rice in gravy, and any ‘sauce’ I could mop up was insipid and lacking in all the richness that rendang is associated with. I, at first, thought I’d used too much water, but I double-checked and was pretty sure I used the right measurements. Oh well.
For all the effort of having to buy extra ingredients for this pre-mix and having it result in a poor plate of rendang, this would have to get 0.5/5 from me.
Some of you might call me out for being ignorant, but I’ve never heard of this brand of pre-mix before. Or perhaps I have seen it, but never took the time to remember its name. Anyway, out of all the rendang pastes here, this one’s got the least number of ingredients—I’m not sure if that’s a positive. It also only requires coconut milk and pre-fried coconut shreds to boost this recipe, so on a convenience scale, that’s a plus.
Once again, this packet doesn’t instruct one on how long they should be cooking this for, so as agreed, I stuck to my 1.5-hour rule.
I would say this paste gave off a fragrance that was in between the last two pastes—not too strong, but too mild either. I would’ve loved it to overpower all senses, but I cannot expect an instant mix to create instant magic. The paste here is close to bright orange, making me wonder if this will be a flop just like Golden Chef. Let’s hope not.
So, the final rendang result turned out a more brown-yellow gravy once I left it to simmer and reduce over a small flame. The first thing I noticed is that this rendang was also runny, although not as terribly as the one prior. Still, this wasn’t viscous enough to win me over; I was struggling to accept this version of rendang.
The first taste of this rendang was weird; it tasted of too much coconut milk—I added the right amount, okay?—and it was too creamy to even still be regarded as rendang, in my books. Everything about it was off, except the immaculately tender beef. Any trace of spices and herbs was lost in this bowl and very quickly, I was yearning Dancing Chef’s version.
Needless to say, this one was a 1/5. The single point is a consolation point for convenience and nothing more.
First word of caution: don’t let the ease of steps fool you. I made the mistake of thinking I could whip up my final batch of rendang as I strolled into the kitchen to cook, when I read that I have to marinate the beef overnight. While my lack of readiness threw me off, I do appreciate that this single box provides everything you need for your rendang—minus the meat, of course.
It takes the hassle out of hunting down lime leaves and lemongrass, which I’m thankful for.
As with many of Prima Taste’s pre-mixes, this one was really fragrant. Have you tried their instant noodle laksa? It’s so good, it’s literally my go-to when I don’t feel like heading out for a piping hot bowl.
Alas, unlike their tried-and-tested instant noodle laksa, this rendang paste disappointed me sorely. And when I say sorely, I really mean, it let me down. I was banking on Prima Taste to up the ante and pit its best against Dancing Chef, but I guess laksa might be their one-trick pony. It tasted more similarly to sweet curry with hints of coconut milk, but certainly not rendang. BOO.
Well, given that you won’t have to peruse the supermarket to buy additional ingredients, I would have to rate this rendang paste 2/5. It tasted nowhere near rendang, but perhaps if you’re looking to recreate a sweeter curry at home that boasts plenty of coconut milk, this would suffice. Perhaps they should rebrand this pre-mix, and that should do the trick.
I hope I managed to narrow down your rendang paste options in the event you need to fire up the stove and impress your family, friends, or even in-laws. As for me, I know I’ll be relying on Dancing Chef’s rendang paste to tide me over when I have an immense craving.
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