Indonesia in Focus
Nasi Padang: Indonesia
Without a doubt, my favourite Indonesian food is Nasi Padang (bungkus of course!). Wherever you go in Indonesia you are bound to come across this delicious food originating from Sumatra – Padang, to be exact.
Even in Yogyakarta I enjoyed Nasi Padang rather than Gudeg Yogya (the traditional dish of Yogyakarta). Gastronome Suryatini N. Ganie wrote an excellent article about the origins of Nasi Padang and the reasons for its success across the archipelago of Indonesia:
Padang: The birthplace of rendang
Padang in West Sumatra is known more as the origin of the country’s most popular cuisine than as a provincial capital, thanks to the ubiquitous Padang restaurants.
Go to any town or city across the archipelago, and the chances are you will find a place to eat called Rumah Makan Padang or Padang Restaurant, either on the roadside, or in luxurious malls or even in more upmarket establishments. How did it happen?
To explain the success of the food of the people of West Sumatra, one has to know that the Padang men have an adventurous spirit and like to broaden their horizons. It is said they believe that their mother’s cooking is the very best and cannot not be found anywhere else.
Add to this their good sales skills and it is not surprising that when three people of West Sumatran origin meet, a restaurant will be set up.
Mama’s culinary skills and her ceaseless prayers (doa bundo) for her children to seek a better life and return home rich are always in their mind. And what does a loving mother give to her son when he has to go to a far away place with no home-cooked food? It has to be a traditional dish that can be kept for a long time and one that becomes better and better when reheated!
Well, that is certainly rendang or meat cooked in a thick coconut milk sauce, spicy hot just like their mothers make. Though in a cookery book about Indonesia’s regional foods published in 1967 by the then agriculture ministry titled Mustikarasa, rendang is a method of preparation in which the ingredients are cooked without any oil. So when the young man gets homesick he would eat some rendang and offer it to his new friends, popularizing the dish among non-West Sumatran people.
Taking the name for from their place of origin, they call it Padang food as most West Sumatrans are also very proud of their capital. Of course there are now many West Sumatra people who say why not Bukittinggi food or Lubuk Linggau food? But one cannot deny that Padang is more saleable that any other name and it has gone global. In Singapore or Australia, Padang food is known and rendang will be on the menu.
The rendang outside Indonesia is sometimes not the classic West Sumatran rendang, it sometimes is only partly cooked rendang. Traditional rendang has no sauce and because of the preparation the meat is dark brown in color. When it still has thick coconut milk sauce it is called kalio. And that is what in many countries or even in Indonesia outside West Sumatra, is served as rendang.
Perhaps the procedure of making authentic rendang takes too long and requires a lot of patience because one has to stir it often until the sauce is totally absorbed by the meat which will then give it the rather dark color. The preparation is actually not too complicated, but what one has to pay attention to is the time of cooking and rendang is best made from sirloin. Rendang has gained popularity in many countries and when asking visitors to Sumatra what dish they like most the answer will be most likely rendang whether it is from Padang, Bukit Tinggi or anywhere else in West Sumatra where people are very adept in creating spicy, delicious food.
–Suryatini N. Ganie
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