Cooking it the Padang way

Only experienced people are chosen to work behind the 'Palung' whch is the food display counter. Photos: ART CHEN/The Star.

IN MALAYSIA, many are familiar with the term nasi campur, which means mixed rice.

While Indian, Chinese or Malay mixed rice is popular with locals, not many would have tried the version from Sumatra.

This writer got an introduction to the Padang version at Sari Ratu, a restaurant chain founded in Indonesia in 1982.

In contrast with Malaysian mixed rice, where a variety of dishes are served on the same plate, nasi padang presents dishes on individual plates or in claypots.

What this means is that the rice is served separately from the dishes. On the table were a dozen unique dishes comprising an array of vegetables and meat, scooped out from the palung or the food display counter.

Sari Ratu managing director Maryadi Aryo Laksomono said although the flavours of Malaysian and Indonesian dishes were almost the same, a distinct difference was in the level of spiciness.

Malaysian dishes are on the sweeter side while Indonesian cuisine is somewhat spicy.

To ensure diners get the original Padang taste in their food, the gravy and sauces are prepared in a central kitchen in Taman Melawati, Ampang, while dry ingredients are cooked at the respective kitchens.

With chillies being a distinct must-have in Padang cuisine, it is common to see them – either sauteed, ground or fried – in dishes.

The first dish tried was Dendeng Balado and Sambal Goreng Udang. The beef was sliced thinly and then deep-fried, making it quite crunchy.

To give it that spicy kick, each piece had sauteed chilli slices that sat on the meat.

The prawns fried with bitter beans and spicy sauce were big and crunchy.

While having chips in the middle of a meal may sound strange to some, it is common to eat fried potato chips with rice in Padang.

As for sauces, the selection available is rather unique with types such as sambal ijo and sambal merah.

Although Malaysian sambal is either ground or pounded, the Padang variety is somewhat thicker texture-wise with bits of chillies.

For hot and sour dishes like Ikan Merah Asam Pedas, yellow mangosteens from Padang are preferred.

“We can easily get them from the local markets. However, the taste of asam kandis (yellow mangosteen or false mangosteen) that is harvested compared to those that fall naturally from the tree is different, ” said Maryadi, adding that it was best to use fruits that fall from the tree.

A diverse choice of Indonesian curries are also available with Gulai Ayam Kampung, Gulai Ikan Merah and Gulai Tunjang (cow’s tendon curry).

Vegetable dishes included sayur pakis (fiddlehead fern), sayur singkong (cassava), sayur nangka and sayur bayam.

Although this writer was thoroughly stuffed at the end of the meal, there was still space for the Es Teler (ice dessert with mixed fruit) consisting of shaved ice, avocado, jackfruit, coconut, sea coconut and sago, as well as Jus Alpukat – avocado juice made with imported avocado mixed with chocolate condensed milk.

The taste of avocado came through even as the condensed milk helped sweeten the rich and creamy fruit.

Maryadi said it was common to have avocado included in drinks and desserts in Padang as it was considered a staple fruit.

Prices range from RM2.50 to RM40 per dish at Sari Ratu.

Set menus are also offered in five categories with west Sumatran beef, fried chicken, tendon curry, deep-fried beef and minced beef.

All sets are served with rice, young jackfruit, green chilli sauce, fried potato chips and iced tea.

Only available at the Bukit Bintang restaurant, the set menus are priced at RM15nett during the promotion period, between 11am and 2pm.

The man behind the food at Sari Ratu is Agus and he hails from Padang.

Agus shared that he was grateful to be able to share the uniqueness of Padang cuisine with Malaysians.

“I enjoy serving diners here Padang cuisine, ” said the head chef who has been with Sari Ratu for 30 years.

Sari Ratu is recognisable from its logo of a Minang woman.

There are five eateries in Malaysia at G Village in Desa Pandan; Taman Melawati; Suria KLCC food court and G Tower aside from the Bukit Bintang restaurant.SARI RATU RESTAURANT, 44, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. (Tel: 03-4162 9866). Business hours: 11am to 10pm, daily.

This is the writer’s personal observation and not an endorsement by StarMetro.

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