West Sumatrans take their cuisine very seriously. For a West-Sumatran, a ‘daily meal’ should consist of at least two meat dishes, one chicken dish, and a nice big plate of rice. Said dishes ought to be spicy, and most preferably cooked in coconut milk.
Cooking in coconut milk tend to require the meals to be cooked slowly, and therefore, eliminating bacterias or any living thing that decided to taint the meals. As a result, overall Indonesian would agree that, when they come to a new place or city, it would always be safer for them to eat in a West Sumatran restaurant or kiosk.
West Sumatran is also notorious for not liking vegetables. As a result, most West Sumatran immigrants who settled in Java area – and found themselves in a sedentary lifestyle that opposed to their initial active lifestyle back in the villages – are prone to cholesterol and blood-pressure related diseases. It is highly suggested that this kind of diet not to be taken on daily basis. Yet it is very difficult to separate West Sumatrans from this kind of diet.
Still, when one finds themselves in a holiday in West Sumatra, one should not fear eating from roadside stalls or kiosk. West Sumatran meals are dysentery-proof, and extremely delicious. No self-respecting West Sumatran cook would dare to allow a dish to leave his/her kitchen without it having at least five different herbs and spices.
Another distinctive West Sumatran identity is the chilli pepper. Most meals tend to be covered from head to toe with chilli pepper. A taste test is highly advised for those who are not used to Sumatran meal, and please, do not take this advice lightly. Indonesian, or more specifically – Sumatran, chilli pepper is not like what is found in Western countries. Tread lightly, and never underestimate a Sumatran dish for their chilli pepper potency.
All in all, West Sumatran dishes eaten in West Sumatra area would bring a new experience, even to those who are used to the so-called West Sumatran dishes elsewhere in Indonesia.
Sanjay is actually Minang-language that means ‘cassava chips’. There are many variations of the snack: spicy, sweet, salty, seasoned with a plethora of herbs and spices. It also has numerous shapes: thinly-sliced rectangles, thin strips, circles, or tiny squares. However, the favorite of tourists tend to be the one in the picture: Sanjay Balado – or spicy Sanjay. Most stores would offer samples, so do sample it before you buy! Some stores’ version of the balado is very, very hot!
Cassava chips is not a snack that is exclusive to West Sumatran. However, when it comes to variations, West Sumatran won hands down with over a dozen variations of the snack.
Coconut Milk Based food buffet
Coconut milk, as described in the previous article, is staple for West Sumatran. Each village and (even) each house would possess at least one coconut tree. Yet, even though coconut milk is thought of to be the cause of cholesterol increase, it is also the main reason why West Sumatran food is the healthiest. Non-Indonesian are suggested to try and taste West Sumatran roadside meals before trying anything else, simply because West Sumatran cuisine takes a lot of cooking time, and therefore would eliminate most bacteria before it hits the plate. Coconut-milk-based meals would also give a distinct, tangy taste if it has gone stale, thus would alert the eater before it passed their throat and wreaked havoc (i.e. cause dysentery etc) in their stomach. Fear not, though, every respectable diner would know, too, firsthand, if their coconut-milk-based meal is no longer edible, and would prevent it wholeheartedly.
Another distinctive character of the West Sumatran meal would be the color. West Sumatran prefers their meals to be spicy, and use a lot of chilli peppers. As a result, everything tend to be red and reddish. They also use a lot of turmeric, giving the slightly vermilion or yellow hue to the dishes. They do not, however, use tomatoes. So a taste-test is advised before consuming the gravy of the dish. The greenery should also be consumed with caution. Even with simple blanched vegetables, they would sometimes put green chilli in it.
A traditional breakfast in the village of Kota Gedang, where this writer hailed from, is Bubur Samba. This is also the most vegan meal West Sumatran, notorious for their reluctance in eating vegetables, has ever produced. It is made out of rice; coconut milk soup with herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger, galangal, bay leaves and chilli pepper; and an option of young papaya, bamboo shoots, or chayote that is cooked in the coconut milk. In the chilly mornings of Kota Gedang, this breakfast will sure wakes one up pretty quick!
Pical Si Kai
Another type of breakfast mostly enjoyed by Bukittinggi inhabitants are Pical (pronounced: pee-chuhl). It contains of blanched vegetables such as cabbages, cassava leaves, bamboo shoots, and banana hearts – all sliced thinly before covered with crunchy peanut sauce and garnished with crispy cassava chips. But don’t be fooled, it will still be spicy, since the peanut sauce will contain chilli pepper.
The city of Bukittinggi has one pical maker that has been running her business for nearly 100 years. It is located right next to Bukittinggi’s Panorama (the park that oversees Ngarai Sianok), and called ‘Pical Si Kai’. Mrs. Kai has been successed over by her own daughter, but the brand – and taste – remained the same.
Yes, that red color is chilli pepper, roughly pounded with seeds in it, and sauteed along with red onions, and poured over fried eggplants. This dish should go along with a nice, steaming hot plate of rice, and can be found in restaurants.
Fish meals is more favored on the lowlands of West Sumatra (i.e. Padang city). The highland people of West Sumatra prefers legged-animals. The highland people had only recently – as in the past few decades – introduced fish in their diet, forced by the increasing price of beef and chicken.
Still, even the fishes would be cooked in coconut milk and a plethora of herbs and spices. This fish is slowly baked in coconut milk, turmeric, lemongrass and bay leaf. It is usually sold as one piece, and can be eaten just by itself.
This vegan salad is a rarity that was found in a lowlands restaurant. This is called Urap (oo-rub), and it originated from West Java area – likely to have been introduced to West Sumatran from Javanese immigrants. Itconsist of blanched cassava leaves (or papaya leaves) and beansprouts, cucumbers, and mixed with spicy shredded coconut that was previously sauteed along with chilli pepper.
See a pattern here? Coconut and chilli? Yes, that is the distinct signature of West Sumatran meals.