Went There Ate That: A Foodie in West Sumatra (The Foodie Magazine, Jan 2015)

Never once I feel such intensity with my longing when it comes to West Sumatra. It is a country full of natural colors and flavors, and everything that came from long history of the people. After several trips there, it is high time for me to share a bit of my foodie adventure in Sumatra Barat.

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Thrice I joined the ranks of journalists on trips to West Sumatra on different purposes but I was fortunate to squeeze the small room of time and opportunity to explore the country’s rich heritage of cuisines from different regions and also the magnificent landscapes in-between.

Oftentimes I have to thank nowadays technology in helping me to pinpoint the exact location of eateries within the obscurity on the map of rural West Sumatra. That and some help from the natives through Twitter, but most of all, my biggest achievement was that I managed to steer fellow journalists and drivers to follow my directions.

The highlight of this piece is mainly about where to eat in regencies outside of Padang, even though my sentimental side asked me to feature one also from the city.

So without further ado, let’s tread it together!

PADANGPANJANG

The city of Padangpanjang lies upon the mountainous region on the heart of West Sumatra. The cool climate of this region makes the city a favorite destination for weekend vacation, almost on par with the more popular Bukittinggi. Most of all, for us foodies, we all know that the city is the capital of the famous sate Padang.

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As a much-loved dish for lunch and dinner, sate Padang from this city emphasizes the use of turmeric more than the coastal city of Pariaman with its red, fiery sauce from the chilies. Despite the strong presence of Mak Syukur, the biggest sate Padang restaurant in town that also has expanded itself to Jakarta, the city is basically proud of the heritage.

That’s why during my last visit, which coincided with Tour de Singkarak 2014, the mayor of the city decided to present everyone with a free-for-all satay bazaar and it was the very moment that I will never ever forget. While people are feasting upon different hawkers, I sampled some of them and found out how brilliant it was to mix between the meat, the tongue, the cheek, and other parts of cow altogether with the intense marination and the flavorful sauce. Respect!

SAWAHLUNTO

A bit far to the south, the city of Sawahlunto is hidden between the surrounding valleys of rich coal deposit which makes it one of the most beautiful cities in West Sumatra. The way in and out is of the city is through the snake-like main road that leads up to the small town strip of Muaro Kalaban.

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In Muaro Kalaban, you will easily find the best dendeng batokok ever in the whole country. While considered as a delicacy in any Padangnese restaurant, the restaurant’s owner has been in the business for decades and the uniformed meat size from tokok-tokok process (pounding the meat) is cooked for many hours, and then topped with red chilies and minyak tanak (pure coconut oil) – the olive oil for Minang people.

There’s a perfect chemistry behind the richness of the spices, the sweetness that came from the meat, and the extra flavor from the coconut oil. Needless to say, each of the elements came from painstaking effort and I felt like I was digging on something heavenly, something that you would cherish on every bite of it.

DHARMASRAYA

This newly formed regency is tucked far away on the southeastern part of the province. It is even said that the medieval kingdoms of Sumatra started here, even before the times of Adityawarman.

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Dharmasraya has only long strips of small towns upon the main road to the neighboring provinces and a few of recently revived historical sites for now. However if you take a look a little bit inside, you will find cheerful housewives saying more than just hello for the newcomers.

In villages of West Sumatra, it is a customary thing for the housewives to cook together to cater the wedding on the next day. What I found was something that is rarely seen anymore in cities and the togetherness in cooking anything Minangnese from grinding the chilies, frying the chicken, and the making of delicious potato fritters.

You can find restaurants out of here, but to view a celebration like this and mingle with the natives become something so valuable that you will not want to trade with anything else.

SOLOK SELATAN

The southern frontier of West Sumatra begins here. Upon the long road ahead downhill that heads to the province of Jambi you will witness the beautiful Danau Di Atas and Danau Di Bawah, and also Mount Kerinci from far away. It’s always a pleasantly scenic journey down this way.

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The Sungai Kalu restaurant upon the main road dated back since the 1950s and it flourishes from time to time as the government paves way to develop the regency. Now, it becomes an oasis for travelers and frequented by many every day.

So, whenever you’re here, be sure to try anything related with green chilies and by that I mean not just the dendeng or the chicken, but also the eels. It’s a simple pleasure found only in rural West Sumatra.

PADANG

So many things to share from the capital city but I would like to just highlight this one for now. After the satay and the proteins from the rich Minang cuisine, then of course it is time for the soto Padang!

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Soto Garuda has been there for many years and sells the much-loved soto Padang that you can find in Jakarta as well. However, their version is simply the best. It feels classic, fresh, clean, but also packed with flavors. The proteins came from the fried cow’s lung or the meat but adding their take of gado-gado is a must as well.

Clearly the two dishes are the best seller there and it’s better to come not too late in the evening or you’ll run out of it.

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Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE Jan 2015 edition

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