10 June 2018

B-Kyu Tour of West Sumatra ~ Lake Maninjau

Lake Maninjau in West Sumatra has some sort of weird power to slow time down, the three days we were there felt like a month.

Heading out of Bukittinggi the roads are wet and chockas with traffic. Eka, our next host in Lake Maninjau is driving us through some incredible choked up traffic, performing some driving miracles while we listen to a Disney princess movie soundtrack. The traffic eventually thins and we start seeing villages and farms, a mix of chickens, prowling wary cats, sleeping dogs, Minang style houses and bored housewives having a chat with the neighbours.  Joy.

The road down to the lake is famous for the number of turns the road takes. 44 to be exact, and most have a small cafe on the bend where you can stop and admire the view. Some are selling pumpkins, most sell quick noodles and coffee. Monkeys sat along the roadside hoping to get a stray bit of food thrown out of a car window, holding up the traffic with their monkey mafia protection demands. "What do they usually eat?" we asked Eka. "Everything" is his reply.

The lake from above. It can sometimes take on a spectacular blue hue, but not for us today.

We booked a room for three nights at on the lake edge through Airbnb. It turns out to be part of a cluster of bungalows, but this one is rented separately. The restaurant/bar/reception is all in one with welcoming goats.

Eka's Place is our digs for the next three nights. It has to be the most restful and calm place we've ever stayed. A cold water bathroom at the back, verandah with a view out the front. We could have easily spent a month here and written that novel, finished reading War and Peace and solved all the world's problems. 

The other bunglows in the complex are set back from the lake front. Mala the dog does a great job managing them. At least on our visit there was no cooking happening in the restaurant, but there's half a dozen or so warungs and small restos around. Another guesthouse a few hundred metres along the lake looks good for food. 

Here's a pan from our bungalow with a bonus pussycat and Alison's foot in the middle. In the audio there's some of the most mesmerising Muslim prayers we've ever heard, they bounced across the lake, melting into the clouds as they rolled in and covered the caldera.

Our butler, Squishy.

Our view from the bungalow included this small outcrop of grass that was home to goats, pussycats and at one stage a tribe of monkeys. It was like having a wildlife TV channel out front. The pussycats made regular patrols of the perimeter, one of them followed a fisherman at night zapping fish with an electric prod by torchlight, pawing any fishies that missed the net.

Family home along the lake.

Our favourite house in the town. We had visions of buying this and moving in.

There was a bunch of these dogs that all looked the same roaming around, we could never tell them apart.

Main street Lake Maninjau. It's all happening.

Just outside the main market, which opened earlier in the morning and had closed up for the day. The town didn't get much busier than this.

There's maybe half a dozen warungs and small restos around the village, quite a lot for the size of the population and the trickle of day trippers coming through.

We fall in love again with bakso urat, chumpy round rissoles of beef tendon and course chopped meat in a clear simple broth, with some egg and rice noodles. These soups are very plain but work very well in the heat.

Ditto the mie ayam/chicken noodles, with accompanying green chili sauce that really charged the chicken broth with a dash of heat.

There's a couple of homestays along the main drag, and a medium sized hotel on the lake, which didn't seem very open.

These Golden City Mini's were like Smarties with chocolate biscuit inside, a serious winner.

There's a new concrete path through the village.

We can sit by the lake all day watching the light change and the clouds rolling over mountains. When Mr Shawn was here for a few days in 1993 the lake was completely clouded over, misty and eerily beautiful. The water level was higher then and you could jump into the water from the guesthouse dining area, and float around in rubber tubes.

These days the water quality is of question due to fish farming. The locals are quick to tell us certain winds stirs up the sulphur from the volcanic lake and kills the fish, which are then just released into to water to rot.

The place doesn't seemed to have changed in thirty years. Sadly now there is even less foreign tourists, back then there were a couple of backpacker bars/restaurants but no more. There was only one other foreign tourist around, an Aussie of course, and he was here for a month or three.

We pick this joint on the main street for din dins.

Everything is pre-cooked, just point and the nice lady will give.

Look at that for a spread! Each plate of rice is served with sides of fluffy ayam bumbu, green cassava leaves and chili sambal. Small plates are served alongside to help yourself as you wish: fried tofu and tempeh, , rendang, ayam gulai (brown chicken curry), ayam in green curry and boiled eggs in belado (chili).

This green curry was similar to a Thai style green curry.

Fried tofu in a light chilli sauce.

The ayam gulai was a slow cooked brown curry, lots of deep coconut and chilli flavours.

The eggs were lightly fried before being coated in the belado sauce.

Our furry waiter. The best non-food part of the meal was the resident pussycats prowling at our feet and meowing for some tasty tidbits. This one got up right between us at the table, it was like a little family eating out at dinner together for a while.

At night a few hawker stalls set up in the main drag carpark- we give the murtabak bloke a go.

A thick batter is cooked like a one sided pancake, steamed and then fillings added.

It's gets a crisp shell on a cakey-crust, then is filled with banana, crushed peanuts and sugar. The whole lot is folded in half and coated heart attack liberally in margarine. These are serious super stodge desserts, one can feed four, we share it with the dudes running our bungalow.

Squishy contemplates the meaning of existance. Something to do with meat and fleas.

The perfectly still lake reflecting the sky above.

We're back up wandering the main road the next day before it all gets too hot. We wonder at the guesthouses along here, big white wooden houses with shuttered windows, really well kept.

A single road goes around most of the lake, great if you're a on a motorbike, but with trucks, buses and everything going by, it's not so good for walking.

We hit another little warung in town for lunch, just next door to the car park market the night before.

Boffet Gumala menu, a simple selection of food and drinks.

Mee Soto was a pimped up IndoMie, a good broth and great fried eggs on top hidden under the required crackers, naturally.

Mie rebus, just the thing after a wild night of solitude at our bungalow.

Susu jahe, a gingery milky tea that was tingly and refreshing, similar to one we had in Bukittinggi, and a classic kopi susu with condensed milk bonus at the bottom.

Warning: If you zoom in on the cat in this picture he will freak you out, it's The Beast. We're sure there's a little 666 tattoo behind his ear.

Our neighbourhood.

This is the other main place to stay right on the lake is Beach Guesthouse. They had a stunning garden and the place was squeaky clean, run by a very friendly couple. If we were here a day longer we would have given the restaurant a crack. Mr Shawn is pretty sure he stayed here in 1993.

There's a bit of money moving into the area as well, just a bit.

Hangin' with Squishy. We love how some dogs just hang out with you when you stay at their bungalow.

Deep friend tempe chips are good. Enak dan gurih (delicious and tasty!)

We try this joint a long the main road for dinner, Mrs Shawn also remembers eating in the same place in 1993, the building just stands out. Back then they made these excellent savoury pastries that were very much like Cornish pasties, which made for some very happy pommy backpackers.

There's no pasties or even their namesake pecel lele but there's pecel ayam (fried chicken), tempeh and tofu.

We make a detour to the tahu crispy man, via the beer lady in the market, who convenentially serves coldies into the evening.

The crispy tahu (tofu) as more chewy than crispy, good tahu but not wahoo tahu.

Our bintang and tofu feast on the balcony abruptly comes to a stinking crunching end as Mala the dog discovers a dead fish on the shoreline. As she crunches down, she releases an eye-watering sulfuric fishy smell from the dead fish, clearing us off the balcony and inside the bungalow. Thanks, Mala.

We get some of the awesome local coffee to take home. Sophisticated, aren't they. It's never quite the same when you get home though, is it? Time and place make up so much more of food memory than flavour.

Squishy says good morning. She sat on our balcony most of the night and day, except for the occasional barking at motorbikes expedition.

Closed traveller cafe.

Town is a abuzz, it's market day. The markets fill up the area where the takeaway stalls are at night, pushing the stalls to one side and stringing up canvas and plastic covers in their place.

We see loads of great veggies that never get served in restaurants. We're veggie fiends and eye off the potatoes, cabbages, tiny cauliflowers, pointy carrots and delicate fern fronds tied up in tight bundles, piles of green and red chilis, squiggly and straight and stacks of garlic and shallots. We reckon people eat veggies at home so when the eat out they want the good stuff: meat and grease.

Sweets ladies! We're hooked on anything that involves palm sugar. The brown sugar cake is the winner here, dense and moist, followed by slices of custardy pandan cake.

Sweet little murtabaks.

Back to our favourite warung for more bakso urat. We dig these bouncy tennis balls of meat.

Through a pleasant mistake Alison ends up with gado-gado. This isn't anything like the sickly sweet peanut butter fests that cause us to usually avoid this dish. This version with chopped up pieces of bakso, cubes of potato, boiled egg, small bits of cabbage on top of a pile of yellow noodles coated in a savoury peanut sauce could just turn us into gado-gado lovers.

After a morning spent doing nuttin' than thinking about our next meal, it's off to lunch.

More rumah makan, this time across the road from the pussycat run establishment. The rice is served with three different sayur (vegetable) dishes and sambals. The sayur mix was similar to the Balinese lawar, a mix of green beans and coconut, and a spoonful of satay sauce for kick.

Fried chicken, minang style with a coating of deep fried flossy bumbu or spice.

Lake fish in a green gulai, it had a white firm flesh like mackerel.

The best damn sayur on the lake.

Dog shaming, Lake Maninjau style. Our furry neighbour has chewed a hole in the couch to sit in. The evidence is everywhere. Well would you want to sit on a vinyl couch in hotter than hot Indonesia?

Super sweet white bread and coconut jam. Sugar overload, way too much sweetness even for us!

Lovely old map of Maninjou at our bungalow restaurant.

Random snaps from the minivan as we head out of town. This corner of the world sure is purdy. The minivan system works well - we booked it through our bungalow, arrived on time, then sped us off to Padang.

Rice fields, clouds.

Small huts provide some shelter in the fields, houses are smack bang in the middle of the green.

The ever present rim of the volcano, standard cloud roll over the edge.

Our final glimpse of the lake as we zoom back to Padang.

We love Indonesia.

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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).