Etymology of Coconut Oil Stew

Every Indonesia hand knows about rendang, a spicy mutton or beef curry. What makes rendang so special is that it is prepared by boiling meat in coconut milk until the water of the coconut milk evaporates. When that happens, the coconut oil separates from the solids, and is used for frying the meat. Long-time readers will remember when we first made this dish in Jakarta in 2004.

Rendang Daging, Taman Rasuna Apartments Flavor, 2004

But maybe it’s not so special. It turns out that every good Jamaican knows about run dung (occasionally rundung or run-dung), also known as Dip and Fall Back, because

When yuh boil down di coconut milk with seasoning to di point it turn custard and yuh add the salt fish – shad, cod or mackerel yuh haffi dip and fall back.

This description seems to be exactly the same as making rendang. And run dung isn’t always made with fish. Check out this image of chicken run dung:

Chicken in coconut “run dung” sauce, from http://www.bestjamaica.com

The question to ask is how it got that way. Does rendang ≈ run dung? A brief web search cannot uncover an etymology for either term, but this is too close to be an accident.

If the terms are related, it’s fun to speculate about the possible etymological links. Three paths seem possible to me.

  1. British encountered rendang either in Malaya or in the Netherlands Indies, and brought the recipe and the name with them to Jamaica. This isn’t as unlikely as it might seem: Sir Stamford Raffles was born in Jamaica, after all, and we all eat something called ketchup (= kecap).
  2. A related version of this: rendang came to the West Indies via the Javanese in Suriname—although rendang is Minangkabau in origins, I’m sure Javanese had heard of it—and from there made its way to the islands.
  3. Both run dung and rendang come from some Indo-Aryan or Dravidian root. It moved to Indonesia like many other words of those origins, through trade and cultural contact, and it moved to the West Indies through colonial migration. This is a story of common origins rather than later contact.

If I were a PhD student in anthropology, I would work on topics like this.

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