(Releads, adds comments from Masterchef judges)
KUALA LUMPUR, April 4 (Reuters) - A British cooking show has sparked a lively debate across Southeast Asian over whether the widely popular chicken rendang dish should ever be crispy and where it originates from.
Malaysian-born Zaleha Kadir Olpin served the spicy chicken alongside her nasi lemak, a traditional Malaysian dish, in the quarter-final of the BBC's MasterChef UK.
But judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace turned down the chicken accompaniment, saying the skin was not crispy, stirring fury on social media and a heated debate in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei.
"Saying chicken rendang should be crispy is like saying that hamburgers should be boiled," KF Seetoh, founder of Makansutra and an Asian street food expert based in Singapore, said.
Torode and Wallace defended their comments, saying "crispy" was the wrong word for the dish, which is traditionally made with chicken or beef that is slow cooked with Asian herbs and coconut milk, but that they had reached the right verdict.
"What I meant was it wasnt cooked. It simply wasn't cooked. It was white and flabby," Wallace told Good Morning Britain.
"She (Zaleha Kadir Olpin) didnt go out because her (chicken) skin wasn't crispy. She went out because the other cooks were better."
Haikal Johari, 41, executive chef of Michelin-star restaurant Alma by Juan Amador in Singapore, said he had never heard of chicken rendang being crispy, echoing comments by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad, who for once agreed with his arch rival.
While hashtags "gastrodiplomacy" and "rendanggate" cropped up online, Wallace and Torode defended their judgement.
"I did a whole series on Malaysia. Malaysian food is fantastic," Australian-born Torode said. "But I said to her, it wasn't cooked enough."
However, Torode riled Malaysians by suggesting on Twitter that chicken rendang was from Indonesia. He later deleted the tweet, which ended with "namaste", an Indian greeting.
However, the jury is still out on which country owns the dish, with neighbouring Indonesia already claiming it. Some suggest the first version of rendang was cooked in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia, some 600 years ago.
Haikal from Alma said there were different versions.
"It is made by different people including Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indonesians, and even in Thailand, there is a dish called massaman, which actually tastes really similar to the chicken rendang too," he said. (Reporting by Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA, John Geddie and Dewey Sim in SINGAPORE and Stephen Addison in LONDON, writing by Praveen Menon and Alistair Smout, editing by Nick Macfie and Alexander Smith)