“Padang” is one word that will cross your way as soon as you arrive in Indonesia, written at many signs and restaurant windows. Masakan Padang, that means Padang food, is the typical cuisine of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, and Padang is the capital of this region.
But visiting Padang, located in a traditional Muslim area of Sumatra, during the Ramadan, didn’t allow to experience the big choice of the restaurants with this kind of that put the name of this city on the gastronomic map of Indonesia.
But padang food is a bit everywhere in Indonesia, and despite the religious rules that push people to fasting during the day (more or less from sunrise until sunset), some restaurants still serve food during the day, although keeping the window where usually the food is displayed covered by a curtain as also the door, showing this way respect for the ones that are fasting. During the Ramadan, some of the restaurants that are open don’t allow the clients to eat there, selling food just for takeaway.
The Masakan Padang restaurants are easily identified be the way the food is presented: in piles at plates or in big metal bowls or trays for more juicy dishes, like curries. The plates are exposed at a window and visible from the outside, and most of them open from the morning until the evening. The food is served at room temperature and just the rice is kept warm.
Due to the big vegetarian choices available, like tofu, tempeh, green leaf vegetables, vegetable curies, jackfruit curries, and eggs in many ways… the Masakan Padang restaurants are a great choice for vegetarians!!!!
But beyond the famous cuisine Padang has more to offer, although it is not a charming or engaging city, that was seriously afecte by 2009 earthquake. But still there enough things to see during a couple of days.
Masjid Sumatera Raya Barat, the grand mosque of West Sumatra!!! In fact is an impressive building that crossed my way just I arrive in Padang, even before the first sun rays! It’s a massive structure inspired on the pointy rooftop of the Minangkabau (an ethnic group from West Sumatra) houses.
As the Ramadan time stole a bit the life of the city, with many shops closed, including many restaurants, was necessary a bit of walk to explore the other side of Padang. There’s a big Chinese community, even a neighbourhood identified as Chinatown with the traditional gate. Here the life runs at the usual pace, away from fasting traditions, and with markets and restaurants working normally.
Nearby the Chinatown, along the Jalan Batang Arau can be found what remains of the Dutch presence here… not much more that a few warehouses and buildings. Some of them are abandoned and others were transformed into bars and restaurants that are closed during the day, giving an sad feeling to this riverside area, despite the colourful fishing boats that are aligned along the riverside, known as Dutch Harbour.
But the Ramadan despite bringing fasting and closed restaurants also has the bright side: the Ramadan food markets!!!! Usually improvise street-market that just run during this season, that open during the afternoon selling food, some of which can only be found during the Ramadan, where people come to buy the food to break the fasting as also for the last meal before dawn, that impose the fasting again. So these markets are a delight for the senses and a temptation to everyone, although can be impolite eating this meals, snacks or sweets on the street, before the sound of the siren marking the end of the fasting.
At Padang, the Ramadan treats, many of them homemade, can be found in many streets between 4 and 5 p.m., but at Taman Iman Bonjol, a small park at the center of Padang where people play sports, hang out and where lots of kids play, where is located the Ramadan Food Market.
But with or without Ramadan, the markets are always the center of the activity in any Indonesia city, and Padang is not an exception! The Pasar Raya, the main market in the city, is a group of a few buildings that didn’t look inviting to visit. But outside along the Jalan Pasar Raya is where everything interesting happens… a street crowded with sellers, hawkers, people and traffic… clothes, fruits, fish and tasty food… busy, colourful and vibrant of activity.
Impossible to be unnoticed here!!! From everywhere the usual “hello” and “where are you from?”… Portugal?!?! Cristiano Ronaldo! 🙂
Where to sleep in Padang:
Most of the people just stay in Padang on the way to Mentawai Island, but still, there are many accommodations in the city for different budgets. I choose one with a dorm as the prices at Padang are a bit height that the usual in Sumatra.
The Brigitte House, as different kinds of rooms, as also a dorm with 4 beds… is a nice place with good conditions, a balcony, a rooftop and is located in a quiet area. The staff is friendly but the owner can be a bit distant and indifferent to the guests, particularly the ones that are not buying one of the many tour pack available at the guesthouse. I don’t miss the place but the price was attractive considering other options in Padang. The bed at the dorm, with air-con, safe lockers and breakfast included is 95.000 Rp a day.
Where to eat in Padang:
Ramadan… most of the places are closed, that make the visit of the most famous Indonesian cuisine a bit odd experience. But on the other hand, the Ramadan creates a curious phenomenon: the food markets that show up on the streets, some organized some very informal, during the afternoon and last until five or six in the evening. It’s a place where people come to buy food, already cooked, looking for treats to break the day fasting and having the next morning meal already in mind. It’s a delight for the senses, with a huge variety of Indonesian cousin, where is also possible to find types of food specially prepared for this season.
At Padang, nearby the Taman Iman Bonjol, a park chosen by local to chill with lots of kids playing, there’s a market area with delicious food!
But during the day, there are many other options to try the Padang food, locally called Masakan Padang. Yet, most of them were closed during the Ramadan, so I just found two of the top choices restaurants open: Restoran Sari Raso (at Jalan Karya, 3; open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and Rumah Makan Pagi Sore (Jalan Pondok, 143; open from 7.30 a.m. to 9 p.m.).
From this two eateries just have the opportunity to try the Sari Raso that is famous also for the wide range of vegetable dishes. The place during the Ramadan looks closed but behind the curtain that covered the door there’s delicious food served in an informal atmosphere. If you seat and ask for 4 or 5 dishes, hidang style, you may pay something around 50.000 Rp, just for vegetable and egg dishes. It’s a big portion of off just for one person, but you also have the pesan system, where the food you choose is served on a plate with rice, and this will cost around 15.000 Rp.
How to move around Padang:
There are many types of angkot (public transport) in Padang, and the type of vehicle as also the colour indicates the route/destination. It’s not easy to understand how this system works, but there’s a big concentration of this angkot nearby Pasar Raya… and there you must tell to the drivers about your destination, and wait until one point you the right vehicle. Is not easy and it takes time and patience, as almost anyone speaks English, and you going to feel how useful is to know a few words of Indonesian!!!
For some strange reason, most of the public transport vehicles at Padang are personalized with eccentric decoration and always have a blasting sound system that can transform a trip in hellish experience!!! Sometimes these angkots are very old, dirty and in bad conditions, but nothing looks to affect the sound system, which sometimes is the only thing that is not decrepit.
But to make things easy, there are also the TransPadang, modern and confortable buses that have a number according to the route, as also specific bus stops (bus halt) that are easy to identify. A TransPadang trip cost 3.000 Rp.