West Sumatra Cuisine

Long before other regional cuisines of Indonesia were known to other regions, West Sumatra cuisine, popularly called masakan Padang, was already on the culinary map. Decidedly hot and spicy, it slowly became one of the country’s most famous cuisines. Dishes like rendang or balado were even in the bags of those traveling abroad.

Because the harbor city of Padang is the capital of West Sumatra province, the sometimes rather different cooking style outside its immediate region is also called masakan Padang, without mentioning its region of origin as gastronome and epicurean Suryatini N. Ganie explains.

Even in cookbooks from the beginning of last century, when West Sumatran dishes were mentioned, they were called masakan Padang.

Traveling around, one will certainly notice that people nearly everywhere in West Sumatra have a gift for cooking.

An example is the culinary tradition in Bukittinggi, which is a place up higher and cooler than other regions, surrounded by a group of mountains, including Mount Merapi and Mount Singgalang.

Since the Dutch colonial time, when the place was known as Fort de Kock, the people of Bukittinggi have created a cooking style all their own. Have a taste of their nasi kapau, which it has a different flavor from the food in Padang.

Bukittinggi cooking, which is suave and has a superb combination of flavors, is a cuisine to remember. One of the popular side dishes for nasi kapau is sayur nangka, which is made from young jackfruit mixed with other vegetables.

Although the gulai itik, a green chili spiced duck dish, is considered “the best” in Bukittinggi, many people say that in the nearby town of Payakumbuh, the ducks are prepared in the same style.

Regarding the lado mudo or green chilies, a friend from that region said to be careful in choosing the chilies. They must be plump, not too dark green, and do not forget to add a small bit of fresh turmeric when grinding the chilies, which can otherwise turn blackish.

Most people in West Sumatra are known to have a profound liking for their traditional foods. Those in the food business are therefore keen to do everything to make others aware of it by serving it differently.

Visit a Padang restaurant, and even in the smallest one they maintain their unique style of putting the dishes in a distinctive way. They put two plates and stack them one above the other. The one below is empty and put upside down while the one on top is filled with a certain dish. They neatly arrange the dishes in a straight row.

So when guests are coming, the waiter will take small plates and put a portion of certain dishes in them. Those dishes are brought to the guests in a distinctive manner by putting them one upon the other on the left arm, This is a serving style that only trained West Sumatran people can do!

Your table will be full of those small plates and it is up to you to choose. “Why don’t you ask what the guests want or show them your menu?”

I once asked that question. The waiter proudly answered that everything he served was delicious and no further explanation was needed. However, the guests will have to try the dishes because of their aroma or by looking at the color of the dish.

In a way the waiter was right because when an array of West Sumatran dishes are served, a palette of colors will be present. Most of the dishes contain red fiery chilies, distinctively yellow turmeric or deep dark brown thick cooked coconut milk. Some are strangely pale colored, such as the ayam pop, a dish tasting like a rather bland chicken stock.

Asking the owner of an eatery on a hilly top in the mountains about the dish, he answered that the flavor and whitish color of the ayam pop was a soothing break from all the other hot and spicy West Sumatra food sensations!

So come to West Sumatra and discover its food!