Written by @Lan Photos by curiostraveller.com team members
Thought of the day-“The only thing that I like better than talking about food is eating.”-John Walters
One long table, 2 diners, more than 20 dishes and at least 5 kinds of Sambal (hot/spicy sauce). If that’s not enough, there were 3 staffs monitoring the table, looking for more empty space to offer more dishes. Each dish presented in different texture, color and taste. That striking red sambal chili was kind of a warning for me not to consume it but then Asians can’t live without sambal. This is Nasi Padang, padangnese can’t live without it, it’s their ‘trademark’, we are pretty sure of that.
Those who have never been in a Nasi Padang restaurant may have the biggest culture shock, gastronomically speaking. To really experience the real Nasi Padang, one may have to travel to Indonesia. Finding Nasi Padang in other Asean countries is not difficult but the best Nasi Padang restaurants obviously are abundant in Indonesia. All you need to do is to come in, choose your table, sit down and order your preferred beverage to which we recommend iced beverage, to cool down that spicy food going in your system.
Locals will normally opt for the Pesan (order) to which they will be getting rice and dishes of their choices. Larger groups and foreign visitors normally will opt for the Hidang (serve) whereby staffs will be serving plenty small plates, inside each plate, one uniquely different dish or if it’s the same source (Chicken, beef or seafood), the cooking style varies. First timers may not be aware of what they are about to experience but soon they will learn.
Nasi Padang originated from Padang, Sumatera, Indonesia, a place where the amazing Minangkabau culture being dominant. While the direct translation is Field (Padang) Rice (Nasi), it has got nothing to do with any field. It’s a kind of food that the Padangnese are proud of. Since Padangnese are just everywhere in the vast Indonesia Archipelago, Nasi Padang is literally being sold at any Indonesia points.
Yes, many dishes we say but fret not, diners are not expected to finish all dishes and if they want to, they are welcome to do that anyway! The concept is simple; you pay for what you have consumed. Some regard it as by the plate buffet. One plate/dish is considered consumed even if an inch of that dish being touched. Steamed Rice are served with these many colorful and delectable dishes.
We went to one Padang Restaurant in Indonesia. We sat down and immediately a staff came with big smile offering us choices of so many beverages. We chose according to our taste bud but soon after, another 2 staffs came, with so many small plates stacked on their hands! They walked on faster pace as they needed to get more plates from the counter! Not a single plate drop though.
Though plates were being stacked on their hands, we noticed that all of em’ were immaculate, not even a drop of gravy or whatsoever. The dishes were in their original position although being sent by that weirdly moving and fast walking staffs, as if they were doing break-dance. The main serving (as informed to us by one of the staff was that amazing Gulai Nangka or Jackfruit, here they named it as Gulai Cubadak, if I am not mistaken).
We ate the rice and yummy dishes with our hands. The right hand of course and we washed our hands prior to dining. Getting spoonful of that many dishes requires the left hand to do that as it’s obviously clean. No one wants to mess that spoon (for the dish) with left over gravy on the hand, that’s unethical. So, it was indeed one impressive array of dishes, with that Dendeng, Paru, Ikan Bilis, Petai, Shrimps, simply put, unbelievably list of food.
Nasi Padang is very much synonym to Gulai term, kind of curry gravy but not as in that curry we always have seen and consumed. Perhaps it is best to describe Gulai as one kind of food containing rich, spicy and succulent curry-like sauce, a term that is also popular in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. So, on our table, there were Gulai Ayam (Chicken), Gulai Hati (Liver), Gulai Itik (Duck), Ayam Bakar (Grilled Chicken) and the list goes on, endless.
For the padangnese or Minang people, cooking is more as an art of making Gulai. A cook is never a cook until him or her ably to cook Gulai the right way. Fried items such as Chicken and Fish are considered normal food that everyone can cook but not when it comes to Gulai. Being able to cook Gulai dishes means the cook have deeper knowledge about many spices, knowing the art of incorporating different spices with the main ingredient into one great dish named as Gulai.
Of all the dishes we love that Gulai Rendang, a dry beef curry that is cooked with coconut milk and spices for several hours until almost all the liquid has been evaporated. In the olden days, Rendang was only for the royals but not any longer, it’s a dish being enjoyed by everyone. Dried or fried items were being served on our table too, such as Tempeh (made of Soybeans), Fried Chicken, Fried Fish as well as Fried Duck. Series of stir fry vegetables were being served as well, not to mention Vegetables cooked in Coconut Gravy.
Spicy Chili (Sambal) is important for the Indonesians and so the Padang Restaurant that we went to served us with 5 kinds of Sambal, all in different colors, black, red, yellow, green and brownish. We tasted all, a little of each and God knows how our facial expression were. The degree of spiciness ranged from 7 to 10, with 10 as extreme spicy. So if you are not into spicy thing, never touch that Sambal but we kind of liking it as each of the sambal actually made the dishes tasty! Our curiosity made us ordered 2 extra iced water.
We managed to finish 12 dishes. It took us a little more than 2 hours to do that, one dining experience that we will never ever forget especially for the fact that we had that in Indonesia, a vast country that comes with many surprises in its cuisine varieties. It’s one of our best culinary adventures, no Nasi Padang Restaurant that we’ve been to in Malaysia ably to beat those delectable and colorful dishes that we had in Indonesia.