When one mentions Nasi Padang, the first thing that will likely come to mind is the spicy yet tasty Sambel Ijo (hot green chilli sauce), before one’s thoughts wander to the variety of dishes to choose from. It has always been one of my favourites when I travel to countries that offer this unique Indonesian cuisine.
Nasi Padang originated from West Sumatra, Indonesia and can be found in several cities in Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara and Papua. They are also available in neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.
It is named after the capital of West Sumatra province and the Minang people’s primary contribution to Indonesian cuisine. It is served with Minangkabau steamed rice with various choices of pre-cooked dishes prepared like a mini banquet of meats, fish, vegetables, seafood and spicy sambals.
Memories of my first time trying Nasi Padang more than 10 years ago are still very clear.
In Brunei, there are not many places that serve this cuisine. However, I was told of an Indonesian couple who opened a small restaurant in Sengkurong that specifically serves Nasi Padang, which I found pretty exciting, so I went there.
As I entered the compact eatery, the friendly young couple greeted customers with the typical customary Indonesian greetings.
Shinta Mutiara, who is originally from Padang, West Sumatra, said when she and her husband first opened the restaurant – Rumah Makan Padang (Padang Eatery) – at the end of August, it was quite challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, she said everything began to pick up after a few days of operation with support from the local Indonesian community.
Shinta said many still do not know about the uniqueness of Nasi Padang as the cooking methods and serving style are totally different.
Even the way takeaways are packed carries a story behind it.
“Minang people are known to be generous and customers are typically from the less fortunate group. The packed food is in large amount to be shared equally among family members,” said Shinta.
She added that Nasi Padang is also cheap. Each dish has its own pricing based on the type and how it is cooked.
The dishes served are family recipes that have been passed down from generations and she learnt them from her mother.
To meet customers’ satisfaction, Shinta prepares more than 20 Sumatran dishes daily and each dish is cooked with a variety of spices and different tastes. Daging Rendang Minang is a must and is a signature Minang meat dish.
Chilli is one of the main ingredients in a Padang dish. The processing of the chilli requires a certain technique to produce each dish’s distinctive taste.
According to Shinta, the best and most used method is grinding the chilli with mortar and pestle, as it gives out a more aromatic dish particularly in rendang dishes.
She added that her interest in cooking came from her mother and it has always been a dream for her to open a Nasi Padang restaurant.
With the strong motivation and support, she made a bold move to introduce Padang dishes to Brunei, while creating new dishes during her free time.