My Citizens! It is one of the most viscerally-compelling joys in My experience to grant recipe requests from the diverse and gastronomic apex that alone is TFD Nation, especially so when it is from a personal friend of mine!
Citizen Greg K. successfully scaled the blizzard-kissed slopes of Mt. Erebus in Antarctica, knocked commandingly upon the front gates of My Sanctum Sanctorum and demanded a recipe as his God-given right from the Generalissimo of Gastronomy (all this AFTER I properly thawed him out in front of the enormous fireplace dominating the reception hall of My lair)! Unsurprisingly (given his semi-frozen state), his request was for a warming Indonesian soup from the island of Sumatra – AND I HAVE DEEMED HIM WORTHY TO RECEIVE MY BENISON!
First off, some Sumatran history, as it is truly one of the most ancient sites of civilization on the planet!
The remains of the first people in Sumatra date back to 13,000 years ago. The remains appear to have come from hunter-gatherers who lived along the north coast of Sumatra on the Melaka Strait across from Malaysia. There has not been any significant discovery of human remains after that in the rest of Sumatra up until 2,000 years ago, when people settled in the Western Sumatra highlands.
The first Kingdom to control all of Sumatra was in the 7th Century, when the Kingdom of Sriwijaya took power – the Kingdom was based close to current-day Palembang. The Kingdom took control of the Straits of Melaka, which at the time, was a major trade route between India and China.
During the 11th Century, Sriwijaya controlled a large part of Southeast Asia including the Malay Peninsula, Southern Thailand and Cambodia. In 1025, the Sriwijayan were conquered by King Ravendra Choladewa from Southern India, but in 1278 Sumatra was taken over by the Javanese.
The Sumatran power houses then relocated their positions to the northernmost point of Sumatra – current day Aceh. At this time, many Sumatrans were animist. They began trading with the Muslim traders of West India (Gujarat) and soon adopted their religion. These traders were the first to give Sumatra its modern name. Soon, Islamic Sultanates were set up around the northern region and given control of the sea ports servicing the Straits of Melaka.
The Dutch began to colonize Indonesia in the early 17th century and it soon became one the richest agricultural regions in the world for the next 320 years. There was resistance against the Dutch and this did not exclude the Sumatrans. It wasn’t uncommon for Sumatrans to burn their own village to the ground and move somewhere else to prevent the Dutch from taking their village over! During the second world war, the Japanese occupied Indonesia (including Sumatra) from 1942 to 1945.
There are caves close to Bukkittinggi that were built by the occupying Japanese army as well as some remains of Japanese bunkers on Pulah Weh off the coast of Banda Aceh in the north.
Indonesia gained independence after Japan’s surrender to the United States, but it required four years of intermittent negotiations, recurring hostilities, and UN mediation before the Netherlands agreed to relinquish its colony. Indonesia is the world’s-largest archipelagic state and the capital of Sumatra, Medan (which means battlefield or arena) was just a small village in the 16th century. It slowly increased in population and by the beginning of the twentieth century was an important trade center – today’s population in Sumatra is estimated at more than 58 million.
The first tobacco plantation was established by Jacob Nienhuis in 1863. Large numbers of people from Java and China were brought in to work on this plantation as well as others that sprung up after it was discovered that tobacco grew so well here. More than 300,000 Chinese were brought to Medan between 1870 and 1930. Sumatra still has a mixture of religions. With 90% Muslim and combination of Christians, protestant and Catholic as well as Hindu and Buddhist.
Now – as to today’s recipe!
Soto padang, more commonly referred to as Padang soto, is a kind of clear, non coconut milked soto (soup), which usually contains beef, onion, potatoes, and white vermicelli noodles as its main ingredients. This soto is a culinary specialty originating from West Sumatra, Indonesia. The meat used for the soto can be boiled and cut, or it can be fried until crunchy (TFD‘s preference).
The potatoes are boiled, then seasoned and made into small patties and then fried. Individual bowls are prepared with rice vermicelli, meat and potatoes put inside, and boiled egg can be added before the broth is poured in. Sliced celery, scallions, and fried shallot are usually added as garnishes. In Padang City, it is often served for breakfast.
Padang food or Minang food is the cuisine of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, Indonesia. It is among the most popular food in Maritime Southeast Asia. It is known across Indonesia as Masakan Padang (Padang cuisine, in English usually the simpler Padang food) after the city of Padang the capital city of West Sumatra province. It is served in restaurants mostly owned by perantauan (migrating) Minangkabau people in Indonesian cities. Padang food is ubiquitous in Indonesian cities and is popular in neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.
Padang food is famous for its use of coconut milk and spicy chili. Minang cuisine consists of three main elements: gulai (curry), lado (chili pepper) and bareh (rice). Among the cooking traditions in Indonesian cuisine, Minangkabau cuisine and most of Sumatran cuisine demonstrate Indian and Middle Eastern influences, with dishes cooked in curry sauce with coconut milk and the heavy use of spice mixtures.
Sumatran food is traditionally very spicy with lots of chili, lemongrass, ginger, garlic and coriander. Some of the spiciest food in all of Indonesian is the Padangese food from Padang in West Sumatra.
As most Minangkabau people are Muslims, Minangkabau cuisine follows halal dietary law rigorously. Most of its protein is taken from beef, chicken, water buffalo, goat, lamb, mutton, and poultry and fish. Minangkabau people are known for their fondness of cattle meat products including offal. Almost all the parts of a cattle are used in Minangkabau dishes. Seafood is popular in coastal West Sumatran cities, and most are grilled or fried with spicy chili sauce or in curry gravy.
Fish, shrimp, and cuttlefish are cooked in similar fashion. Most of Minangkabau food is eaten with hot steamed rice or compressed rice such as katupek (ketupat). Vegetables are mostly boiled such as boiled cassava leaf, or simmered in thin curry as side dishes, such as gulai of young jackfruit or cabbages.
In popular usage prevalent in Indonesia and neighboring countries, the term ‘Padang food’ is often used generally to refer to the culinary traditions of the Minangkabau people of Western Sumatra.
However, this term is seldom used in Minangkabau inland cities itself, such as Bukittinggi, a culinary hotspot in West Sumatra, where they refer to it as Minang cuisine or ‘Minang food’ instead. This is partly because many Minangkabau nagari (counties) take pride in their culinary legacies, and because there are differences between Padang rice of Padang and kapau rice of Bukittinggi.
For this particular recipe, once again TFD reigns SUPREME when it comes to ruthless authenticity – this is the same version you would receive in any top Sumatran locals restaurant on the island!
Thankfully, only a few ingredients are rare or unusual and I will share sources with you to enable your own enjoyment of this classic recipe! First off, you’ll need Indonesian bay leaves, known as Salam – you can buy top-quality leaves from here. Kaffir lime leaves are also used lavishly in this recipe – this source also has the best-quality dried leaves I’ve found! So-called ‘glass’ rice noodles are an integral part of this recipe and may be easily purchased on Amazon here. These uncooked shrimp chips are delicious and most authentic – buy them here.
In keeping with Sumatran tradition, this soup is both highly-spiced AND also packs some serious spicy heat in addition to the delicate flavors from the spice islands! I have every confidence you will LOVE this soup, Citizens – and thanks again to Citizen Greg for the request! 😀
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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