08 April 2018

B-Kyu Tour of West Sumatra ~ Bukittinggi

A couple of days eating and sleeping in Bukuttinggi, a popular hill town outside of Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia.

Bukittinggi is abuzz with domestic tourists, the hotels are booked out for the weekend with new years eve just a couple of days away.

Bukittingi really hasn't changed much since Mr Shawn was here in 1993, a bit busier, perhaps a little more pious on the surface. The very centre of town still has a 1960's retro vibe to the place, and we still wonder how can there be so much traffic in a small hill town (population these days around 100,000).

Sadly for the town, but great for us, barely any western tourists are coming through. In the 1990s there was enough of a backpacker trail to support a couple of traveller cafes, some hostels and travel agents. On this trip we see only a couple of western tourists in Bukittinggi, so few that we feel obliged to say hello (or hello mister!) in passing.

What also hasn't changed is how friendly folks are. The dude in front was jumping up and down with the sheer excitement of meeting us, a pair of pasty flabby boring middle aged Strayans, go figure. We were quite touched by this little moment.

Speaking of taking photos on the street...

Between us we’ve travelled Indonesia from Bali to Medan, and in every town we’ve had locals asking to take their picture with us. Folks just love getting their photo taken with a westerner.  In the ye-olden days of film cameras this was no hassle. There would be one or two photos, some laughs and handshaking, and we were on our way...

In the digital age the whole photo-with-a-westerner thing is a different ballgame. There's a dozen group shots in various poses using various phones. And just when we think its over, the selfies start. Several each. These impromptu photo sessions can now stretch out to ten minutes. But we secretly like the attention. Nobody wants to take photos of old farts like us back home, we are grateful performing monkeys.

Sometimes we feel a little ashamed ourselves for lapping up the attention we get travelling in Asia, for no other reason than being a pale faced novelty. And sometimes it gets tiring being representatives for all of western civilisation. In some parts of China we would have to mentally prepare for the spotlight before leaving our hotel room. We’d never make it as celebrities.

Bukittinggi has a gorgeous market. We start our market crawl at the top of the hill where it is undercover, spotlessly clean and colourful, with a time-warped 1950s department-store-in-a-shack vibe. It gets pretty grungy at the edges though.

Vegetables? Take them away two-legger...

At the edge of  the market we spy a great looking nasi campur (mixed dishes on rice) type stall (not the one above), brimming with fresh cooked food includings loads of the vegetable dishes we were hoping to find. But dang the stall is takeaway only, no seats and no cutlery. In hindsight we should have nabbed the takeaway then bought some plates, we were in a market after all. But alas we were cranky hungry and not thinking straight. Food now. We settle on sate uniang at this stall on the edges of the market instead.

Sate on lontong (rice cakes) in a gravy that tastes as much of sugar and thickener as it does of peanut, chili and spice. It's an ok feed, the stomach is happy but the taste buds reckon we could do better. Later we find a couple of great looking nasi campur joints along the street. You can't win them all, not on an empty stomach.

The main shopping streets are clogged with legs and wheels and stalls and variations thereof. The shops on the main shopping street are gorgeously retro, though it doesn't show in the photo.

The Islamic ladyfolk fashions here bright and cheery. Today everyone is in their Friday best and their air is chockas with happy,  it's New Year's Eve eve, or as our nieces call it, New Year's Adam.

We regret not finding space for a roti bakar, we're not sure if it is more burger or cheese toastie.

There's plenty of great street art around the backstreets.

We love the handpainted shop signs.

Wanna buy some choppers?

Bukittinggi hasn't changed much at all since Shawn was last here in 1993, especially the traffic.  If we were in charge we'd block a few streets to traffic and unclog the footpaths so the tourists can relax and get their wallets to the shops faster.

Our local pharmacist came out for a stop'n'pat every time we walked past, without exception. A fine kuching.

We pick Simpang President for lunch. We liked the the look of their tofu, and the cut of their jib.

Simpang President menu.

We order some tofu and tempeh. We were most looking forward to the nutty, funky flavours of the tempeh. But holy Scaramucci, the fried tofu was an eye-popper: flash fried on the spot, surprisingly sweet and moist on the inside, creamy, luscious even, slightly crisp on the outside. We often order fried tofu at Indo joints in Sydney but this is on another level, even beating the hell out of the tofu we've eating in China and Japan.

Oddly enough, a simple piece of fried tofu was the most memorable morsel of the trip.  Likewise a slow soft boiled egg in roadside Thailand, an egg butty in a London caff, and a train platform soba noodle soup in Japan. The simplest stuff is often the best.

We find space for some ayam pecel. Like the Eskimos having 50 words for snow, Indonesia seems to have unlimited words for fried chicken. We are not huge fried chicken fans but man, Indonesia cooks a fine bird. You might get crunchier skin on your fried chook in Korea or Alabama, but in Indonesia they somehow get the flavours of the marinade or spices right through the meat. It's magic.

The sambal was another corker, there's an added depth the in the sambals that we don’t taste in Indonesian restos back home in Sydney. The sambals were a food highlight of the trip.

The road to our guesthouse sure was purdy but dodging the traffic wore thin. If you look closely, the dude third back on the first motorbike is waving. Told you this place was friendly.

Our guesthouse manager.

Guesthouse entertainment manager showing off her pearls.

Tops house next door.

We’re thrilled to find beer in this conservative town. There's three or so bars on the main drag. We crack Bali Hai's at an outside table and feel a bit conspicuous, especially when the traffic jams outside giving folks time to give us a good long stare. We found one little supermarket\convenience store that sold booze.

We pick a random joint for dinner on the main drag, we liked the look of their ayam bakar, grilled chicken.

The ayam bakar is perfect. Super moist, tender and sweet, with a killer sambal on the side.

The soto daging (beef soup) is salty in a good way, a classic Indo fried shallot and tumeric-y broth, and plenty of beef either on the bone or a little gristly, also in a good way.

For a drink we try teh telur, egg tea. A glass of hot black tea, topped with sugar and egg whites whipped into a lathery froth with a beater attached to an electric drill. It’s like a warm, super sweet meringue. This was an eye-popping winner, they'd charge you twenty bucks for this in the axis of evil, ie Surry Hills.

We tried to buy a rissole on the way home but the cat didn't have any change.

The next day we hit up a resto we spied earlier.

It's quite a large space and packed with punters when we arrive.

It is served Nasi Padang style - the waiter dude lays out a bunch of dishes and you just pay for what you eat. If you eat one of the two pieces of chicken, you only pay for one.

Slice of eggy omelette or quiche with tiny bits of chopped veg was a favourite.

We can't always identify everything, perhaps lung, perhaps skin? Following is a series of photos of food items where sometimes we aren't 100% sure of their animal origin or from which part of the animal.

Ok, this is chicken.

We really dug this air dried beef with green chilli sambal. It shredded up as you ripped it with your teeth.

Chicken gulai, the local style of curry.

There's a zoo at the top of the hill, a great place for animal haters. We skip it.

For din-dins we head back to the main drag where stalls set up at night.

We take a punt on this place, one of many along the whole of the main street. They blocked the footpath and made it hard to walk and check out what was on offer. Most folks just seemed to drive by and see what they liked.

Small bowls of clear broth, a few noodles and some pieces of daging and nasi on the side. Pink crackers totally essential.

Same version, but with chicken. The chopped chicken was bones and all, not heavy on the meat but strong on the flavour.

We spied these potato croquettes, part of them were broken up and mixed into the soup, thickening the soup and adding some extra bulk.

We see bandrek pinang on the menu and we have absolutely no idea what it is, so we order one.

It turns out to be spiced tea, warm with a little condensed milk in the bottom. It kinda tasted like strong sharp fresh ginger, an excellent settler for the evening.

The dining area of our guesthouse, not too busy at breakfast.

Our guesthouse breakfast is lontong - rice cakes in a little curry - great way to start the day. Pink crackers again.

We sneak in one more piece of insanely delicious, moist palm sugar cake. Those dark sweet burnt sugar flavour gets us by the boo boo.

Our pharmacist buddy comes out to bid us farewell. The day we leave Bukittinggi the town is setting up for New Years Eve, looks like it will be a hoot.

And we are off through burbs and villages towards Lake Maninjau. Oh boy.

Our eatings were limited by time and health in Bukittinggi, so we didn't get to explore the food as much as we hoped. We went hunting for ampiang dadiah, which we were told was buffalo yoghurt and palm sugar, oh boy, but couldn't find it anyway. Locals in Padang told is to look out for the Bukittinggi version nasi campur, Nasi kapou, which maybe we ate, maybe we didn't, who knows. For the outsider the regional food differences in Indonesia are quite subtle. Our one big regret was not trying when we spotted it was usus, intestines filled with egg and tofu. Oh well. Developing world first world problems.

We love Indonesia.


  1. I suspect your fried chicken was ayam penyet, aka smashed chicken? It's crushed with a pestle in a mortar before serving, hence the name. Pecel is a vegetable salad of sorts.

  2. The one that you can't identified is stomach .. aka. tripes


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).