26 February 2018

B-Kyu Tour of West Sumatra - Eating Nasi Padang in Padang

A transit day in Padang, Sumatra starts off a week of Indo food feasting.

Nasi Padang was our primary reason for being in Padang. We expected a Nasi Padang restaurant on every corner, being Padang'n'all, but as we waddle out of our hotel for the first time, at night, down dark quiet streets, Nasi Padang is not to be found, but we a perfectly happy to sit out butts in the first joint we find.

There's a food lady, a drinky-snacky lady and bbq of mystery outside. This shared set up is common, often changing vendors throughout the day.

Food lady has it all laid out and ready for us. It's point'n'chew time.

Serving suggestion 1: fish'n'greens. The fish is dense and covered in belado, a chilli sauce we praise later on in this post. The greens are cassava leaves in a light coconut sauce, a green chilli sambal not too dissimilar to the Northern Thai nam prik dip and a couple of bits of cucumber.

Serving suggestion 2: the same cassava leaves, chicken, fish and veg, with a splash of yellow curry on the rice. The chicken was dry and boring but the greens and yellow curry were amazing. We like the small portions of rice, this makes it harder to overdo your stomach space and starches.

Look into my eyes, don't look around my eyes, look into my eyes, you are now hypnotised. Order more fish.

Mr Shawn wanders outside to order satay. A table of uncles point to an esky, which one geezer opens to reveal half a dozen very fresh looking fish to choose from. Score. We picked the one above because it looks like the rouget we eat in New Caledonia, Wikipeida tells us it is red mullet. Whatever it is, it's expertly bbq'd fish - moist flesh and light crisp skin, smothered with a red spice belado paste. This spice paste is a highlight of our trip: a perfect mix of (perhaps) long red chilis, shallots and garlic. The bright red goo is chili hot and spicy but not overly so, there's a depth to the flavour that raised both our eyebrows. This little beauty of a fish picked at random was one of the best dishes of the trip. Thanks hypnotist pussycat.

We thought Padang would be be a nerve-grinding big city, but we were happy to find more of a big country town.  There's some laid back tree lined streets and great old houses around the place.

And of course, this being Indonesia, the main drags are torrents of motorbike soup, lined with concrete blocks, and more motorbikes.

Away from the main roads many parts of Padang have a village feel to them. Chickens'n'all.

In a parallel life we see ourselves living a nice quiet pottering existance in Padang in a house like this -  a trip to the markets every day, some cooking and gardening, the occasional earthquake, afternoon tea.

We waddle off to Padang Central Market for brunch.

Grand market entrance.

Price board by the market entrance.

Yep, it's a market.

The market is spread out over several sections, undercover and otherwise. There were newer buildings going up around the edges of the market that might make it easier to make a meagre living selling meagres.

It's tough wandering around the markets - all this great produce and nowhere to cook it, especially those amazing hand ground chili bumbus and pastes.

We hit up this soup stall outside the market, following a friendly call to come in and eat. Soto Padang a fellow diner called it.

Soup lady in action.

We love the salty tumeric tinged broth, which we sweat back out again in the little oven of a sidewalk tent restaurant  There's a little bit of rice in the bottom of the bowl, then noodles and pretty pink crackers on top. A bloke next to us showed us how to jazz up the soup with vinegar, soy and bottled chili sauce until our soup matched the colour of Dame Edna's hair.

We were fixated with the tub of fresh chili paste with its civil medium heat and flavour depth, from shallots we guess. This chili paste is a serious food highlight, oh if only we could find something like this back home in Sydney.

We escape the heat of the markets and find a strip of warungs in a shady breezy tree covered spot by a sports ground.

We pick a stall called LSD, mainly for the name, with the bonus irony of it being a police hangout, at least on our visit anyway. There were half a dozen cops taking it easy, sipping tea and vagueing out. This queued flashbacks to an earlier Java trip (pre-blog) where we shared morning tea with an army platoon. We get that same weird sense of being at ease with strangers who could turn your life inside out with the raise of an eyebrow.

It's so quiet and relaxed. In the bitey mid-morning heat there is no greater pleasure in life than sitting down with some shade and a breeze. It's the simple things...

We fail to resist the cakes laid out on the table like choccy bars at the checkout.

The cake was meh, yesterday's bake, but the small cone of rice topped with palm sugar was luscious. Moist, fresh, simple and divine. Almost as sweet as the ice lime tea we had to wash it down.

We just love that burnt sugar flavour.

One of the cops orders food.  We’ll have what he’s having - lontong: plain stodgey compressed rice cake with thick yellow noodles and thick curry gravy that tastes like laksa. Yep.

The sports ground next to the warung has a grandstand in the style of a traditional Minangkabau house. This is repeated throughout Padang, the parliament houses and official buildings all got pointy.

Local fire motorbike truck.

Somebody really wants a pat, but is a little bit shy, so she has a little woof instead.

It’s hot at lunchtime, way too hot to be wandering around looking for a Nasi Padang restaurant fat random. We’ve seen more Nasi Padang in Kuta restaurants in Kuta and Jakarta than in Padang, just like it's easier to find sushi in Australian than in Tokyo. So we ask Google who (yes, who) sends us to Pagi Sore. It's only five minutes walk away. Bonus.

We walk fast, making it to the restaurant before our central body heat, iced up from super aircon on in our room, melts in the midday sun. If there is one thing that Asia does way better than anybody else, it's aircon.

At Pagi Sore we are greeted by buskers who provide restaurant background music, a cracker version of the Bee Gees 'To Love Somebody'. Come on in!

The joint is jiving with what we figure to be a mix of locals and out-of-town foodies.

Pagi Sore is one of those famous places with celebrity photos lining the walls. In not one of the photos does the boss lady smile, not one. Just the way she’s not smiling right now, as she keeps close tabs on this ripper little cash-cow of a restaurant.

A little girl, the boss lady's granddaughter we guess, is hiding around the corner, in the kitchen, peering out now and again with her face covered chocolate or maybe mum's lipstick, we can’t tell. Either way, choccie or lippie, we’d be frightened of granny too. The floor staff easily crack a smile though, and the little girl never cops a hiding. We think granny is a big softy underneath.

In this style of Nasi Padang restaurant you don't order anything. Just sit down and drool while your table is plastered with tapas-sized dishes. You only pay for what you eat, down to the fraction of a plate. If you only eat one bit of rendang on a plate with four bits, you will only be charged for one bit of rendang. So for the love of hygiene, use serving spoons for serving, and eating spoons for eating, or your fingers like the locals do, because the leftovers will go to somebody else.

The rendang is the standout dish for Shawn, it’s the dry Sumatran style that he hasn’t had proper-like since he was last in Sumatra in 1993. The rendang is slow cooked until the sauce is mostly evaporated and the meat is kinda stirfried in the thick gravy right at the end of the cooking process. The meat is, we guess, tough old buffalo, so it holds up well to long, slow cooking. The flesh is super tender while retaining shape and some texture. The gravy is deep, rich and balanced with strong coconut notes that really punch through. Superb.

The surprise hit dish is lung. We've had lung before and it was pretty rough, one of the very few things Shawn couldn't swallow. But this is wonder lung, dried and chewy like jerky, mild and meaty in flavour, not offal-ish  at all. It is served with chilis that are soft from soaking or cooking in we don’t know what. The chilis are a little sweet and and very mild in heat, a perfect partner to dried meat.

A bowl of green beans and water spinach in a gulai, a curry sauce thick with coconut.

Petai or stink beans in a lado sauce. These guys aren't friends for everyone, they have a strong scent and a bitterness to the bite.

Fried chicken - we love you but we can't spare any precious stomach space for you.

Chicken carcass bits in the same sort of creamy gulai sauce.

Tofu mixed with fried fish in a white coconut sauce. Fish and tofu are always a great combo.

Chicken livers and giblets in a peppery curry sauce, each bite was a little mystery as to what bit of the chicken it might have been.

These were quite a mystery to us, bark like beans with anchovies, they had a slightly bitter after kick to them and a much hotter chilli.

We didn't touch the fish, the rendang and veggies won out.

This small dish of green beans, coconut, chilli and bean sprouts was cleaned up too.

Even the plain cucumbers were great, crisp and clean against the bigger curry and chilli flavours.

The crowd has thinned out by the time we leave, the musicians left long ago, after passing the hat of course.

We back up the nasi padang with iced durian at Ganti Nan Lamo which is just around the corner from Pagi Sore. This intersection turns out this a great little food spot with a bunch of restaurants and street carts at night.

We love the kooky interior, 1950s diner meets 1960s dayglo.

All they sell at this shop is durian slushies. There's a core of shaved ice with a moat of durian goo with a custard consistency, with a drizzle of chocolate sauce. Oh my, chocolate and durian are special friends, chocolate perfectly cuts durian's  funky onion notes. If you are durian curious, Ganti Nan Lamo is a great way to dip your tongue in those funky waters. We trained up with durian lollies before the trip.

At the end of a piggish day of eating, not mention the hotel breakfast that we didn’t mention, there was no room for dinner, only Bintang. We walk over the bridge where corn-on-the-cob stalls hog the footpath, and gawk at the sunset view of the river, do a loop down the river and waddle home.


  1. Extreme food porn! There was a nasi padang restaurant in my hometown of Alor Setar (Malaysia) in the early 70s, just as you describe in Padang. The famous Rendezvous Restaurant in Bras Basah Road (Singapore) was another.

  2. oh my gawd, you are in Padang, you should try itiak lado mudo/lado ijo (fried duck with green sambal), and sate padang also is a must. and if you have a chance to Bukit Tinggi, try the dadih (milk fermentation from buffalo)...


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).