Sunday, January 25, 2009
Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Flavors Stacked High: A Taste of Padang in Jakarta
It's late at night, we just landed in Jakarta, totally starved. We want loads of local tasty food and we want 'em NOW. There are plenty of places which open late, meeting the demands of the-always-hungry, Jakarta's nocturnal community. Should we go for noodles? Sate? Fried rice? Ahhh, decisions...decisions...
College days nostalgia made me crave Nasi Padang. Back then, my bad habit of going to small Nasi Padang joints, ordered loads of rice, almost no meat, shamelessly requested for an obnoxious amount of the free extras such as curry sauce, green chilli sauce, and fried shallots, ignoring the shop owner's obvious angry looks, sailed me through college with minimum food expenditure, and maximum amount of shoes. Hah!
Our local companions, your average young Jakartaners who don't really call themselves foodies, although I know they do loveeee their food and won't blink an eye seeing the huge amount of food I was about to consume (as they can pretty much eat as much as me), brought us to one of Jakarta's popular nasi Padang joints at Gajah Mada Street, Restoran Garuda. It is not exactly the same dingy Nasi Padang joint I frequented in my college days, but the food is great, the people are friendly, the place is clean (so it wouldn't scare our foreign guest, sous chef) and it opens 24 hours. Yay!
Nasi Padang, a West Sumatran cuisine, is a part of Minangkabau culture. The dishes are normally tasty and spicy (that's why we could eat a lot of rice with just a few spoonfuls of sauce. haha!), flavored with loads of ingredients and spices, such as coconut milk, chilli, turmeric, and galangal. The tasty green chilli and cassava leaves are two of my favorites, a must have for every visit.
The service staff at the restaurant were super friendly. Upon the sight of my camera, they immediately gave me really cool poses with huge smiles plastered on their happy faces. This shocked the heck outta sous chef. This kind of friendliness is really rarely found in Hong Kong.
At nasi padang joints, dishes are stacked by the window display, and they are stacked on the server's arm to be carried to your table, where they will be...well, stacked. :)
Carrying a huge stack of dishes and still manage to smile? Mas (this is how we address a young gentleman in Indonesia), you're a star!
These dishes of deliciousness are stacked on your table, and you could get whichever dish you fancy, and you will only have to pay for the dishes you ate. My eyes were on that gloriously golden pieces of fish, braised in coconut milk and spices, the spicy beef jerky, the spicy fried anchovies, and the...yes. I have no self control.
We heard many horror stories where guests of honor drank straight from the bowl of water intended for hand washing. We didn't intend to brief our foreign guest (sous chef). In fact, we told him that the bowl of water was for drinking, setting him up for a night of embarrassment. Unfortunately, sous chef was no fool. He kinda smelt something fishy when he saw the people at the next table dipping their dirty hands into the bowl. Bah!
The chickens they used in local places like this are different from the ones we find in global fast food joints such as KFC. They are significantly smaller. Small enough to evoke pity from our sous chef, who felt so sorry about eating this chicken braised in spicy coconut milk. Boy, never saw him feeling sorry gnawing at some huge breasts from KFC before!
These are ayam pop. This is a relatively new dish, which I hadn't seen in my college days. I was really skeptic when I first saw those skinless, pale chicken. How could they be any good? They look kinda sad to me. But after my first try, I was hooked. The meat was absolutely tender, juicy, and very flavorful. They are cooked in coconut juice. Wow! No wonder! The spicy red chilli sauce served on the side perfected the dish.
Here comes the tiny fried chicken. Don't be fooled by the chicken' dry, overcooked appearance. They are absolutely delicious!..and those crispy bits? Heavenly!
Nothing made nasi padang tastier than eating the food with your hands. Just the way we do it. It's an art! Always using the right hand, grab a bit of rice and any dish, with your four fingers, and use your thumb to fold and shape everything in.....
...and enjoy! We don't gnaw and bite meat off our chickens. Chicken meat is supposed to be daintily ripped of their bones gently, before being savagely shoved into our mouths. Bones and fingers are to be licked clean (...or is it just my another bad habit? Perhaps! Hehe).
Peep into all the juicy goodness inside this jumbo prawn (udang galah). The sight of this made me weak. It's every bit as tasty as it looks, and the prawn's meat was gorgeously springy, simply succulent.
There was one particular dish, which I've missed as they were sold out by the time we got there. Cow's brain cooked in coconut milk and spices! Man, I miss that creamy goodness!
I ended my tasty meal with something sweet, a tall glass of broken coconut dessert. The meat of this coconut is different from others. Deliciously smashed and delightfully broken. This kind of coconut is harder to find than the normal coconuts. I was told that there are generally just one of two of them out of a whole coconut tree.
At the end of the meal, the servers would clear the dishes which were untouched, and then he will calculate what you've consumed from the remnants of the dishes you had. As we licked some of the dishes clean, our server had difficulties concluding his crime scene investigation (thanks to Mang Hemat, who gave me this brilliant CSI idea) and had to rely on us to tell what those dishes were.
I was tempted to post the aftermath pictures, but decided otherwise as the scene might scare you.
What happens to the other dishes on our table, which weren't consumed? Will they serve those to other patrons? Had the chickens we ate been touched by others?...
...let's just say...what you don't know won't hurt you. :)