Soft, fragrant rice, crunchy fried chicken that definitely has some KFC esque secret herbs and spices, soft tofu soaked in a laksa like coconut sauce, spicy potato cakes like a croquette of peppery mash with a side of garlicky greens, all piled on a plate and topped with a super spicy sambal. These are just a few of the tasty treats on offer at Padang restaurants in Indonesia.
On our recent trip to Java and Bali, we fell in love with these all you can eat window displays, that serve up fantastic flavours for very very cheap price! Simply grab a plate and point to the various dishes piled in a glass cabinet, usually behind a questionable curtain to keep out the flies. Although health and safety may be slightly lacking (leaving food at the prime bacteria growing temperature of 30 degrees in a unrefrigerated cabinet may not pass any health inspections!) , the wide spread of tasty and unusual dishes in unlimited quantity provide a definate appeal. And I must add we travelled around this area of the world for six weeks without getting sick once, and we ate in some fairly questionable looking places (being the bargain lovers we are!).
When you’re done, you just pay for what you had, with chicken and meats generally being slightly more expensive than veg, fish, tofu and tempeh, (although still ridiculously cheap!) Choose from fried fish (head attached), curried eggs, rendangs, sweet and spicy tempeh pieces and quite a few unidentifiable dishes. These are probably best approached with a ‘better not to know’ attitude. You may end the meal in a slight chilli induced sweat- they don’t always ‘westernize’ the heat level, but I promise its worth the small amount of pain for the opportunity to try as many dishes as possible in the one sitting.
So if you’re ever in this part of the world, don’t hesitate to load up a plate and give it a try. Or get an Indo takeaway and pile your selection into a banana leaf or brown paper parcel. Go where the locals are for to be on the safe side and get the tastiest dishes, although I’d still probably stick to lunch to get the fresh stuff!