As you are reading this, I’m making my way through Europe, ogling at all the Christmas lights and marveling at all the beautiful architecture. Follow along here.
I was in my second year of undergrad then and my parents had asked me to come home and spend the summer with them. It was a chance for us to see our grandparents and our cousins from dad’s side of the family, most of whom reside in Medan, Sumatra. It was also a chance for my dad to see the redevelopment of his childhood neighbourhood in Meulaboh, Aceh. I said redevelopment because the house he grew up in was leveled by the 2006 Tsunami. There was nobody in it at the time but I could see a pang of sadness on my dad’s face when we reached the site.
Considering it had been 9 years since I last saw my grandparents, I told my parents I wanted to make the trip to see them again when I went to Indonesia last year. I asked my dad to meet me at the airport in Medan that morning. I would fly in from Jakarta, he from Surabaya, and his cousin would pick us up. It was a perfect coordination with zero delays and cancellations.
Medan, a city on the northern tip of Sumatra, is very popular for its delicious foods. There is a notable cultural influence on the food as well as on the culture because of its proximity to Malaysia and Singapore. It is a city where you can find delicious Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian foods. It’s also a city where majority of its population speaks a Chinese dialect known as Hokkian.
My dad’s cousin, whom we will call uncle from now on, is known for his love of food. So I knew I was in good hands and knew that I would be fed well for the 2.5 days I was in the city.
Man. I was spot on.
Despite the title of this post, I am actually going to talk about all the foods we had in Medan. I mean, no sightseeing was done other than seeing my grandparents and the rest of the family; only delicious foods eaten.
The first thing we ate as soon as we landed was dim sum. Of course!
My uncle took me to his favourite restaurant, chose a table, and proceeded to order the mini dishes.
Dim Sum is a form of Chinese brunch very popular with Hong Kong Chinese. There is a plethora of delicious dim sum restaurants in Toronto that are basically on par and as authentic as what I had in Medan.
But I digress.
We had everything from sauteed rice noodles to pork ribs with black bean sauce, ending the meal with mini buns filled with mung bean custard. It was a delicious way to start the day.
Stir fried turnip cake.
Char keow teauy
After going around the city, my uncle took us to some sort of night market for dinner. The streets were closed and their sides were lined with all sorts of vendors. This was street food at its best!
My uncle bee-lined to his favourite stalls, which are conveniently beside each other, and ordered Char Keow Teauy and a bowl of Bak kut teh. Char Keow Teauy is Malaysian dish originating from Penang. It’s rice noodles sauteed with soy sauce plus eggs (preferably duck eggs), shrimp, some veggies and garnished with fried shallots. I love char Keow Teauy and could eat it every single day of my life.
Bak kut teh, on the other hand, is a medicinal herbs soup. In the traditional version, which is what we had, the broth is made by boiling the spare ribs with bitter herbs. The resulting concoction apparently has medicinal properties and can cure maladies. I tried a sip and left the rest of the bowl for my dad to finish. I was more than happy with my plate of Keow Teauy!
The huge variety of side dishes you can choose to accompany your rice.
Nasi Campur is ubiquitous throughout Indonesia. I can’t give you a direct translation because “mixed rice” simply doesn’t suffice. Basically it’s a plate of white rice and a bunch of side dishes, like fried chicken (ayam goreng), corn fritters (dadar jagung), potato fritters (perkedel) stir fried veggies (urap-urap), fried egg (telor goreng), and sambal. Always sambal.
Things get interesting when you are in Medan. Because majority of its population is Chinese, Nasi Campur in this city is accompanied by Chinese style side dishes, like cah kankung (stir fried watercress), cu kiok aka kaki babi (braised pork knuckle), all kinds of innards that I happily skipped over, a side of soy sauce with chili, and a bowl of baikut sayur asin (pork ribs and fermented mustard leaf soup – trust me it tastes so much better than it sounds).
ALL THE NOODLES
When my uncle asked me what I want to eat, I only told him “noodles”. I LOVE NOODLES.
On my last full day in the city, all 3 of my meals were varieties of noodles, from char Keow teauy to Mie Hokkian to Mie pangsit he bought from a stall near his house.
Keow Teauy AGAIN!
Happy faces all around.
My dad moved to Surabaya when he was a teenager, so I was never close to my Medan family. Sometimes I forget I even have families there. This is why I’m all the more grateful for moments like this, where I can reunite with them, even if it’s just for a few days. Writing this post is especially hard this time because my grandfather is currently hospitalized in Penang, Malaysia. Keep him in your prayers, will you?