About a year or two ago when everyone was clamouring to have nasi kandar when the franchises start mushrooming all over Kuala Lumpur, I kinda got turned off. Suddenly, nasi kandar feels so OTT – too much spices, too much flavour and too much hype. And I queue up at the original nasi Pelita shop in Chai Leng Park in Seberang Perai at midnight, together-gether with the factory workers who had just finished their 3pm-11pm shift.
That’s when I discovered nasi padang all over again.
Padang-style cuisine belongs to the Minangkabau people of Western Sumatera and its capital Padang. This style of cooking is so popular that nasi padang stalls are found all over Indonesia, and in Malaysia too.
It started with a visit to Garuda ( a popular nasi padang in Kg Baru where we had ayam goreng bumbu and ayam goreng pop. The chicken is marinated in spices, then boiled or steamed, and then only deep fried.
There was also all the other curries – gently spiced and flavoured with the richness of coconut milk. What’s not to like about indulging in melt in the mouth tendons in curry, or the thin crisps that’s danging dendeng.
For awhile, we patronise nasi padang shops – Sumatera in Mutiara Damansara was a favourite haunt even if it meant we’d go back to work completely lethargic and a little guilty at the excesses we subject our stomachs to.
I even like the nasi padang stall at the Midvalley food court.
And in all every one of these nasi padang shops, there would always be two types of sambal – one made of red chilli and another of green chilli. I love them both; they don’t have the depth and smokiness of sambal belacan but they taste fresh and burns enough to whet the appetite.
My colleague Siti is married to a guy whose family hails from Padang, Indonesia. She was our nasi padang guide as she always knew where the next best nasi padang shop is. My nasi padang adventures petered off when Siti moved to another office.
But last week, I visited her and her new baby and her mother-in-law was there. Siti’s mother-in-law had shared her Padang recipes for a feature for Flavours, and I have made her delicious corn fritters.
When Siti offered me lunch, I started off declining mumbling something about going back to work. But on the way out, I singgah in the kitchen and spied the sambal cili merah. Immediately, my mouth watered and I wiped off a plate of rice with that delicious sambal and fried ikan bilis, and sup tulang.
It is kind of strange that I like the sambal so much – I never take red chilli raw, and this has the smell and taste of raw red chilli. And I am a sambal belacan loyallist – there is always a jar in my fridge. But somehow, the Padang-style sambal cili merah works.
Of course, I ask Siti’s mother-in-law for the recipe – and it goes like this : segenggam (a handful) of cili merah, half an onion and a tomato. Just blend it coarsely, and season with salt and sugar. Then, heat cooking oil (and don’t be miserly and health-conscious), and tumis the chilli until fragrant over low heat. Don’t rush it; cook it slowly till the oil comes up to the surface.
I cooked it the very next day, and overloaded on rice. Yup, rice, sambal cili merah and french beans cooked with tanghoon and eggs.
I must get the green chilli sambal recipe – I spy bits of ikan bilis in that. There is another delicious sambal (Melanau-style) that I learnt in Mukah, Sarawak years ago where the red chili is pounded with ikan bilis…. maybe that’s the next posting because I crave it now already.
10-12 red chillies, halved
1/2 an onion
1 cup of cooking oil
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp sugar, or to taste
Deseed the red chillies if you don’t want your sambal to be too hot.
Blend the chillies, onion and tomato coarsely.
Heat the cooking oil over medium heat.
Then, pour in the blended mixture, and leave it to simmer over low-to-medium heat. Stir it occassionally, but let the chilli cook slowly till the oil rises to the top and it is aromatic.
Season with salt and sugar.
Eat with hot white rice. It’s a good accompaniment with fried fish, meat jerkies (the Malay/Indonesian version is called daging dendeng), blanched cabbage in coconut milk, fried anchovies, fried noodles, and just about anything.