For most Indonesians, not eating rice at every meal is virtually unheard of. It’s impossible to feel fully satisfied without it, of course! The only real question is, what will you pair with those fragrant white grains? Below is a smattering of the food choices available throughout the region. No matter your tastes, you’re bound to find something you’ll love.
Most restaurants throughout the Kerinci valley serve “Minangkabau,” aka “Nasi Padang” cuisine.
A typical Padang restaurant displays their already cooked dishes in the front window, often consisting of curries of fish, beef, chicken, and jackfruit. Once you take your seat in the restaurant, instead of handing you a menu, the server will begin to place platters of food on your table. Pick out the ones you think look good, and scoop them onto your plate. When you’re done, the server will come back, take a look at the dishes, and judge how much food you took from them. The dishes with remaining food on them will be moved back to the front window or onto the table of another customer for them to enjoy.
The default way to eat is with your right hand (the left hand is dirty). If you don’t want to get your hands greasy (or temporarily blind yourself later by absentmindedly rubbing your eyes with spicy fingers), don’t be afraid to ask for a “sendok” (spoon). Also, the glass bottles on the table are not for drinking – they’re for rinsing your hands off over the little bowls on the table when you’re done.
In the last few years, in the main town of Sungai Penuh, there has a been a bit of diversification of the cuisine.
A number of restaurants have opened up (notably Korintji Heritage, Wiyuka Cafe, Q2 Steak, Cafe Mini, and Hola Cafe), that provide an actual menu and make the food fresh to order. Varieties of Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng (Fried Rice and Fried Noodles) still make up the bulk of the menu, but it’s possible to order Indonesian style steak, chicken breasts, large crayfish, capcai (a vegetable stir-fry) and some other similar foods that aren’t quite as spicy and can make a welcome respite from Padang food if you’ve been travelling in the area for a while.
Don’t forget to order a fresh fruit juice while you’re there! “Jus Alpokat,” or avacado juice with chocolate syrup, and “Jus Mangga,” mango juice, are my personal favorites.
Unique foods, flavors and extreme heat.
The most ubiquitous and famous of all Padang cuisine is the spiced beef curry dish of Rendang, arguably Indonesia’s most famous and delicious dish. Pictured above is the popular Gulai Nangka, a jackfruit-based curry. If you’ve never had the dish before, it’s easy to mistaken the texture of the young jackfruit for chicken.
Minangkabau food is renowned throughout Indonesia and Southeast Asia as some of the spiciest around, but you can usually find some regular ayam goreng (fried chicken) if you’re not up for the burn. The ubiquitous Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and Mie Goreng (fried noodles) are always safe, if not the healthiest, options, especially if you ask for them tidak pedas (not spicy).
One food unique to Kerinci is Dendeng Batokok, which are strips of beef or water buffalo that are dried, fried, boiled and grilled into tender, delicious perfection. Easily one of my favorite foods in all of Indonesia.
A favorite for travelers, street vendors selling an assortment of delicious foods can be found around almost every corner.
The famous barbecue sticks of sate come in peanut-based forms (sate kacang and sate madura) as well as the more common West Sumatran varieties in an offal-based red or yellow sauce (sate biasa), and in a variety of meats including chicken, beef, and goat. Martabak is a sweet pancake sandwich with your choice of filling, including chocolate, coconut, and banana. Martabak Mesir is made from an egg and flour based batter poured out and filled with meat and vegetables, then folded up into a square.
Risoles and other gorengan or fried foods, come in a variety of forms: some as simple as fried tofu and others more like a vegetable-filled eggroll. Mie Bakso is a soup of instant noodles and a few veggies, with bakso meatballs of ground beef and flour. The best place to find a wide sampling of street foods is at the carnival-like pasar malam, found right in the center of town.