Padang food

Something of a cover-all term for the spicy cuisine of North West Sumatra including Aceh and the areas controlled by the Minang people.  Other than the fact that it serves the dish most loved by Western tourists (beef rendang) the surprising thing about a Padang restaurant is the way the food is served.

Rather than presenting customers with a menu, shortly after being seated the waiter will cover the table with plates of food, even stacking them on top of each other when all of the table space is full.  Don’t panic.  You are not expected to eat it all.  Customers only pay for what they eat.  Naturally, a smart waiter will fill your table with the most expensive dishes, so unless you want an all-meat meal you may need to request vegetables.  For the adventurous, I’m sure the selection of lung, brain, kidney and intestine dishes is a delight.  But if you don’t like offal (jerohan), you can send those dishes back and ask for flesh (daging) and vegetables (sayur) only.

You really do only pay for what you eat, so if there are two pieces of meat on a dish, you can take one piece and the one you leave will not be included in the bill.  The piece you leave will be served up to the next diner.  This is why it is not a good idea to take much notice of the people sitting at the other tables.  Table manners are generally excellent, but it’s a bit off-putting to see people picking up a piece of chicken before swapping it back for one that has a little more meat on it.  Another unfortunate practice is for the diner to drain off the sauce from one of the dishes onto his own so he gets the flavour of the dish without having to pay for it.

At the end of the meal the waiter will count up the empty plates and charge you accordingly.

True Padang restaurants are only found in Indonesia and maybe Malaysia.  This is because the fresh spices are not available outside the tropics and preparation is very labour intensive.  Rendang sauce cannot be exported as the meat needs to be cooked in the sauce and most Western countries will not accept Indonesian beef because of the anthrax problem. 

Some of the dishes which most appeal to the Western palate are:

  • Beef rendang – Big chunks of beef in a thick spicy sauce.  The reason this dish is so spicy is that the sauce was originally made to preserve the beef, back in the days before refrigeration.
  • Opor Ayam – Chicken pieces in a mild yellow runny gravy.
  • Singkong – boiled cassava leaves.  It’s a bit like spinach but not bitter.
  • Cap cay – a kind of clear vegetable soup with prawns and sausage pieces.

Sorry no pics yet, I have some on my old laptop but can’t figure out how to move them online yet.


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