What’s a must-have during Hari Raya? To the people of Perak, the best part of the celebration is rendang tok.

Once reserved for Perak royalty, the delicacy is exalted for its sweet, robust taste and deep, dark flavours. The meat is slowly cooked in coconut milk and some 20 different herbs and spices for 4- 6 hours until it is completely dry and deeply infused with the flavours of the seasoning. #helpmymouthiswatering

And the king of rendang tok brands in Perak is of course Rendang Tok Mak Nik. Usually at this time of year, you can purchase this delicacy at bazaars and farmer’s markets in Perak and Selangor. But thanks (or no thanks) to COVID19, this is no longer possible.

However, fret not, rendang lovers, you can still get your fix. Those who live in Klang Valley can order through agents who will arrange for delivery to your doorstep. In Ipoh, you can order directly from Megat Syahrin Megat Aris, the brand’s operations manager. Details below.

I was connected with Megat thanks to the power of FB! (Shoutout to We Love Ipoh – City of Good Food)

This connection had sentimental meaning for me because years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mak Nik, the founder herself, for the Perak Good Food Book. After chatting with Megat, I learned interesting new things about the brand which I thought might be of public interest.

Here are 10 things you may not know about Rendang Tok Mak Nik 🙂

1. The founder of the brand is Mak Nik, or her real name – Nafsiah Yeop Abdullah. She inherited the recipe from her great grandmother Siti Hawa, who used to be a cook at the royal Perak palace in the 1950s.

How Rendang Tok Mak Nik grew into a major brand reflects our current situation in more ways than we think: Mak Nik had to pivot her business while facing economic challenges

2. Before starting the rendang tok business, she and her husband Mohamad Pandak Husin were meat and vegetable sellers. However, by the 1980s, business was not very good, and she had to do something drastic. One day, she had some unsold beef and an idea occurred to her. “Why don’t we make rendang tok? I have this family recipe from my great-grand mother.”

3. While a lot of rendang is made from beef, Rendang Tok Mak Nik is made from kerbau or water buffalo. The key to rendang tok’s deliciousness is that the meat is cooked with spices up to six hours, leaving the meat coated in the spicy condiments. Normal beef will disintegrate after so long, but water buffalo will not. So after that long cooking process, you end up with meat that’s not only tender but deeply infused with complex flavours.

4. They started out in the backyard of their house in Pasir Putih, with a capital of RM35 and minimal equipment. They tried all sorts of ways to promote their product. Mak Nik told me they also went from house to house to sell. But the real game changer was selling it at a pasar tani in Kampung Simee.

This is why pasar tani is such an integral component of their business model and distribution system.

5. Being a pioneer at the popular farmer’s market in Ipoh Stadium gave them extra visibility, which became a competitive advantage over other rendang hawkers. Soon, they were able to set up a factory in Sri Pengkalan industrial area, Pasir Putih, Ipoh to commercially produce the delicacy.

6. Today, Rendang Tok Mak Nik has made its way to overseas markets. (Not during MCO though) They have also expanded to other products such as serunding, lemang, ketupat palas and simpul. The rendang is also available in heatable aluminium pouches that can last up to 2 years.

7. Mak Nik was a pioneer among women entrepreneurs in Perak. For her extensive contributions, she won a well deserved Women of Inspiration: Entrepreneur accolade at the inaugural Mutiara Perak Awards 2012. #myPerakheartisburstingwithpride

8. Of course, rendang tok is delicious eaten fresh, but when you order 1-2 kilograms of it, that may not be possible unless you are serving at a kenduri lah. Here’s a tip on storage: rendang tok can be kept at room temperature for 2 days. After that, it can be kept in a freezer and best eaten within three months. To reheat, best to steam rendang tok to keep it moist.

9. There are several variations as to how the rendang tok got its name. When I interviewed her, she told me, “In the past, whole families would go to war together. One day, a child saw his grandmother preparing food for the grandfather to take to the battlefield. The child asked, “What’s that?” and the grandmother replied, “Inilah rendang tok” (This is your grandfather’s rendang; the Malay word “tok” is short form for grandfather).

But … after relaying the story, she laughed cheekily. Thinking back, I wonder now if she was pulling my leg, haha! I guess like many Malaysian legends, the real story is anybody’s guess!

10. During our chat in 2008, Mak Nik shared a fascinating insight into what gives rendang tok its distinct character: “When preparing rendang tok, not a single strand of kerbau hair should go into the cooking. You have to wash the meat with wheat flour to ensure this. And not a drop of water should enter the kuali (wok) – the only liquid should be from the coconut milk.”

And there you have it, a look behind the scenes of Malaysia’s famous rendang brand.

Like so many other businesses, Rendang Tok Mak Nik has not escaped the effects of COVID19. But it is one of most resilient brands in Malaysia for good reason and I’m sure they will bounce back stronger than ever! Until then you can do your bit by supporting local brands!

Dear Mak Nik, thank you for building a brand that is not only the pride of Perak but Malaysia. You may have passed on, but your beloved legacy will continue to live on in our hearts – and our tastebuds.

To order, whatsapp Megat (Ipoh) at 012-343 5039 or Abd Raheem (Kuala Lumpur) at 0194132301
Visit their Facebook page