One of the things that Lola enjoyed the most in Jakarta was nasi padang.
Nasi padang, to the uninitiated, is West Sumatran food. Nasi is the Indonesian (and also Malay) word for rice; Padang is the capital of West Sumatra. Interestingly, nasi padang restaurants only exist outside of West Sumatra and can’t be found in Padang itself. Or so I’ve been told.
The nasi padang restaurants vary in size, quality and food choices, but there are more established chains such as Sederhana and Natrabu (National Travel Bureau — it was a travel agency that diversified into the restaurant business) with branches all over Jakarta. There is also a Natrabu branch in KL, but alas, I find that the food there is not up to par with its Indonesian counterparts.
A lot of people swear that nasi padang tastes a hundred times better when eaten by hand. However, forks and spoons are also available, wrapped in serviettes, on your table. I’m a spoon-and-fork-person myself. I can even peel shrimps without using my hands, just a spoon and fork ;)
The waiter will then put before you a plate with a scoop of rice, with the scoop being a coconut shell in its previous life.
And now, for the part that Lola finds most fascinating — another waiter will come bearing 10 to 15 plates balanced precariously on one arm, as he has to leave the other arm free to take the plates and place them on your table. Each plate has a different viand or vegetable in it — ayam pop, grilled fish, beef rendang, chicken rendang, fried shrimps, squids in spicy coconut gravy (Malay: sotong, Indonesian: cumi, Tagalog: pusit), free-range spring chicken fried crisp with herbs and spices, tapioca/cassava shoots (Indonesian: singkong, Malay: ubi kayu), sambal hijo (green chili sambal), daging dendeng (crunchy strips of beef), young jackfruit cooked in coconut milk, among others.
I’ve eaten nasi padang countless times but it was Lola’s first time and somehow, her excitement rubbed off on me. The waiters were amused, but were more than willing to pose, when we asked to take their photographs.
Unfortunately, I cannot find the photos that I shot of the waiters anymore, so I had to resort to borrowing this very nice photo of the waiter doing his balancing act from Mochachocolata Rita’s blog.
Lola did worry about the amount of food that was served to us but I assured her that we don’t have to eat everything and that, in fact, they only charge for what we eat. The food’s so good that there are usually no left-overs, so when you’re done eating, the waiter would come and attempt to identify the food that you ate from the sauce and/or bones left on the empty plates.
As is the local practice, you will find yourself served with teh tawar (unsweetened tea) instead of water. It’s on the house (Indonesian: gratis) but you can also order another drink and I strongly urge you to be adventurous and order something that you’ve never tried before. Choices include jus alpukat (avocado juice), jus melon (honeydew melon juice), jus semangka (watermelon juice), jus sirsak (soursop juice, Malay: durian belanda, Tagalog/Cebuano: guyabano), jus mangga (mango juice), jus terung belanda (tree tomato juice), es jeruk (iced mandarin orange juice), es teler (shaved ice with syrup, red beans, corn, also known as ABC – air batu campur – in Malaysia and halo-halo in the Philippines). Lola had her fill of the heavenly jus alpukat, of course ;)
Nasi padang can be quite expensive though. Drinks normally cost Rp8,000 each. It’s not that expensive, considering that the juices are from real fresh fruit, but I was told that you can actually have a full meal for the same amount if you eat at smaller canteens or informal restaurants known as warteg (warong Tegal). The term is said to have originated from the place Tegal, Central Java, the hometown of the originators of the first warteg.
Wherever you may opt to eat in Jakarta or anywhere new in the world for that matter, it’s always wise to bring along some charcoal tablets or Diatabs or Diapet, just in case your tummy doesn’t agree with the local food. Credit cards, I can do without, but diarrhea medication? Don’t leave home without it!