Negeri Sembilan food
Photo Credit: 123RF | @ismedhasibuan

Getting to know the locals of Negeri Sembilan

Published January 18, 2023


Minangkabau colourful wedding

Whether it’s your very first time visiting Port Dickson, or you’re already quite familiar with its quaint township and touristic seascape, there might still be a lot for you to learn about its fascinating people and the colourful Negeri Sembilan culture and tradition of the locals. When it comes to getting to know the locals, the best place to start would of course be Port Dickson’s history. According to Port Dickson’s history, the small town used to be called Arang as it used to produce charcoal with a carbon mine at the first mile of the coast road. The British administration later developed it as a small port during the Straits Settlement period.

This seaside town is part of Negeri Sembilan, which literally means ‘Land of the Nine States’ as the state once consisted of nine districts. The state is home to the Negeri Sembilan Minangkabau culture, a community originally from West Sumatra who settled here in the 15th century under the protection of the Malacca Sultanate, fleeing violent raids from the Javanese.

During the migration process, the Minangkabaus of Negeri Sembilan brought along their traditional custom called Adat Perpatih (or Perpatih Laws), an age-old matrilineal social system of inheritance and administration, which governs laws, political organization, traditions and social systems through the principles of kindness and consensus, and made it Negeri Sembilan’s local culture and custom. The Adat Perpatih of the Minang culture dictates women as the leaders of society and inheritances are passed down to daughters, not sons – a law that still applies today.

A Unique Minangkabau Culture & State Heritage That Can Be Found Nowhere Else In Malaysia

Minang culture multiracial society

As a state that is well known for its beauty of nature and warm hospitality, Negeri Sembilan is inhabited by a multiracial society that exceeds a population of 1 Million citizens. The Malay community who practices the Minang culture makes up the majority, followed by the Chinese and Indian community, and other ethnicities.

The Minangkabau culture influence can be seen in the unique architecture in many Negeri Sembilan kampung houses and official buildings, with the sweeping, peaked-roofed “buffalo horn” architecture inspired from “Minangkabau” (derived from the Indo-Malay words “menang and kerbau” meaning “winning buffalo”) . Some examples of these influences can be seen in the State Mosque, Diraja Sri Menanti Museum and the State Secretariat Building.

Minangkabau culture architecture    A couple near museum in Negeri Sembilan

Visitors who are keen to find out more about Minangkabau culture and history should pay a visit to the State Museum (Teratak Perpatih) within the grounds of the State Museum Complex on Jalan Sungai Ujung in Seremban. The museum showcases a fine display of ceremonial keris (daggers), Minangkabau swords and royal ornaments. Another notable tourist attraction is Diraja Sri Menanti Museum located in the royal town of Sri Menanti. This former palace which was built in 1903 without a single nail sits on 99 pillars and showcases the regalia of the Negeri Sembilan royal family as well as ceremonial weaponry and costumes.

Video Credit: YouTube | Afan Izzat

The Customs Museum located in Kuala Klawang, Jelebu in Negeri Sembilan is the first national museum that is dedicated to all the different customs from the different ethnic groups in Malaysia. It is known for its display of the “Adat Perpatih” custom unique to the Minangkabau culture.

Visitors can also learn more about traditional Minangkabau ceremonies and festivals at the Customs Museum located in the quiet town of Kuala Klawang, 30km from Seremban. Here, tourists can find out more on the lifestyle and customs of the Minangkabaus of Negeri Sembilan including adat berkhatan (circumcision ceremony), adat perahu (giving offerings to the spirit of the sea), adat mengangkat tiang seri (the ceremony of erecting the main pillar of the Malay traditional house according to geomancy) and tumbuk kalang – a musical tradition performed during paddy harvesting season.

Dynamic Minangkabau culture

The Minangkabau people of Negeri Sembilan are also distinguished by their arts and philosophy which are both expressive and dynamic, yet hold closely to the prevailing traditional values and the belief that the natural world should guide their lives. The Minangkabaus of Negeri Sembilan brought with them the traditional music of Caklempong, which played an integral role in the everyday lives of the Minang community like unifying the local residents, for wedding and opening ceremonies, as well as celebration events including the inauguration ceremony of the Yang Dipertuan Besar (the King) of Negeri Sembilan and is also used as accompanying music to the arts of self defense, the pencak silat and dances. 

Traditional Plate Dance Tari Piring practiced in Minang culture   Talempong performance practiced in Minang culture

Another performing art practiced in Minang culture is the Tari Piring (Plate Dance). Traditionally performed at wedding functions, the dance depicts a sense of joy and gratitude for the Minangkabau society when the harvest season has arrived, with dance movements resembling farmers’ movements while planting and doing harvesting with the purpose of worshipping the Goddess of Rice Minangkabau society. Male and female dancers dance with placing a plate on each respective palm and also step on broken plate pieces while dancing.

Video Credit: YouTube | Arsenal Red Juan

Negeri Sembilan National Department For Culture and Arts Performs The “Tari Piring” (Plate Dance) - a traditional Minangkabau dance which mimics farmers’ movements planting and harvesting in the fields, while holding plates in the palms of their hands. At times, the plates are tossed in the air or thrown on the ground and stepped on by the dancers. 


The Rich Culinary Tradition of Minangkabau Cuisine

Rich culinary traditions of minangkabau cuisine

The Minangkabau people who settled in Negeri Sembilan brought with them a gastronomic identity that bled into the state’s culinary DNA, leading to a unique Minangkabau food culture. The authentic Minang cuisine is characterized by its bold taste, rich and flavorful spices and a delicate cooking method that is unmatched by any other in the world.

Among Negeri Sembilan traditional food include traditionally fragrant, slow-cooked dishes which boast tender, velvety meat with tropical coconut flavours and rich spicy undertones from the liberal use of cili padi (bird’s eye chillies) – small, fiery tongue-burners that are a mainstay in Negeri Sembilan food offerings like Masak Lemak Cili Api – a potent spicy curry dish with beef, chicken or fish which is simmered in coconut milk and cooked until tender.

Two people indulging Minangkabau cuisine

Minangkabau cuisine puts much emphasis on these three elements: gulai (curry), Lado (chili pepper) and bareh (rice). The heavy use of spices consisting a bouquet of coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic, black pepper, galangal, fennel seeds, lemongrass, cinnamon, caraway seeds, cumin, curry powder and chili pepper, with succulent fresh coconut milk; are the residual influences of Indian, Arabic, Persian Dutch and Chinese  cultures. As most Minangkabau people in Negeri Sembilan are Muslims, a strict halal dietary law is observed rigorously.

Protein sources are mainly from beef, water buffalo, goat, lamb meat, poultry, fish and seafood. Innards such as offal, tongue, tail, liver, tripe, brain, intestine, cartilage, and spleen along with skin, bone marrow and tendon are also considered Minangkabau Negeri Sembilan delicacies. Plant products including cassava leaves, bay leaves, jackfruit, long beans and beans are used in most curries.

Minangkabau Negeri Sembilan delicacies

Minangkabau cuisine methods consist of several types: burned - grilled fish, grilled chicken and satay Minangkabau (specialty satay with a spicy yellow sauce made from rice flour with beef & offal broth); boiled with red chili without coconut milk - asam padeh fish and asam padeh meat; steamed – galamai (Minangkabau dodol made from sticky rice flour mixed with brown sugar and coconut milk); roasted – lamang tapai (fermented sticky rice with coconut milk and roasted in a young bamboo), fried - dendeng balado (spicy beef jerky which is flattened and dried in the sun before frying over low heat) and boiled with savoury dishes from coconut milk such as fish/duck/goat/seafood curry with jackfruit/long beans, gulai tempoyak (fish curry with fermented durian paste), kalio (dry beef curry) and beef/chicken rendang.

Iconic Minangkabau cuisine dish rendang beef with special curry

The showpiece of Minangkabau cuisine, however, is the iconic rendang (chicken or beef dish with special curry). It was crowned the Best Food in CNN’s World’s 50 Best Foods and was declared the most delicious food in the world by CNN in 2017. Originally used to be a dish for the nobility since the 15th century, this popular dish is durable as it can even be stored at room temperature for a month. The Negeri Sembilan Minangkabau people believe that cooking rendang teaches three important values: patience, discretion and perseverance.  The complex cooking process gives rendang a very unique and delicious taste. It takes a total time of approximately 7-8 hours to cook rendang through three stages – gulai (when coconut milk is still in its liquid form), kalio (coconut milk thickened and becomes oily) and rendang (when meat is completely cooked over a low flame).

The time-consuming nature of this dish explains why it is often served at special occasions like weddings and traditional celebrations. Like most Minangkabau cuisine, rendang does not recognise food coloring, artificial preservatives and flavour enhancement and relies on traditional spices like ginger, turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, onion, garlic, shallots and red chillies alongside ferns, sweet potato shoots, jackfruit leaves and lime leaves with coconut milk for flavour and colour, which also has anti-bacterial properties, serving as natural organic preservatives.

Muslim woman serving a bowl of chicken rendang to a man

The ubiquitous rendang also holds much cultural significance for the Negeri Sembilan Minangkabau people with the four main ingredients representing parts of ancient Minangkabau life. The meat symbolizes the datuk: elders, nobility and royalty; the coconut milk symbolizes writers, intellectuals, poets and teachers; while the chilli symbolizes the strength of religion, with the heat of the chilli representing Sharia. The other spices represent the rest of Minangkabau society.

The Minangkabau food culture is unique and also known for bajampa or barapak eating. Hailing since the 7th century from West Sumatra, this tradition is commonly carried out during celebratory events such as religious days, weddings and traditional ceremonies. It follows the Minang Islam custom to follow the traditions and practices of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, where participants sit together in a circular position on the floor with rice and side dishes placed on a tray, with the goal of sharing life in togetherness regardless of social status and to pay respects for the elderly.

It is said by many that Negeri Sembilan is one of the most culturally rich and diversified states in Malaysia, as the Minangkabau culture has given its culture and tradition a distinct uniqueness. Intrigued by the complexity of Port Dickson’s history and the Minangkabaus of Negeri Sembilan? Then why not plan a getaway here at Lexis Port Dickson to get a front row seat in experiencing and understanding how the rich Minang culture has shaped and woven the intricate fabric of the local society. Have no doubt that you will fall in love with the people that call this land their home! 


Getting to know the locals of Negeri Sembilan

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