Medan Ciak growing Australia’s love of Indonesian food

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Lontong sayur is a specialty at Medan Ciak (Photo: Medan Ciak).

How Medan Ciak is spurring Australias love affair with Indonesian food.

Australia has long been familiar with the vast array of cuisines from our Asian neighbours. From east of the region – like Japan, Korea and China – to south, such as India and Nepal, and southeast, like Thailand and Malaysia.

But amid the thousands of eateries dedicated to these countries’ delicious foods, there are only a handful dishing out the diverse cuisines from one of our closest neighbours – Indonesia, home to around three hundred cultural groups.

Indonesia, which is home to about 300 cultural groups, has a myriad of cuisines.
Indonesia, which is home to about 300 cultural groups, has a myriad of cuisines. (Photo: Medan Ciak)

Enter Medan Ciak, which is popularising the colourful and fragrant cuisine from Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province located in the northwest of the largest archipelago in the world.

Andrea: I’m lucky to have been acquainted with Indonesian food during my four years living and working in the country.

The more cuisines I found – from Javanese, Sundanese (of West Java), Balinese and Padang, and the influences from its Chinese, Indian and Dutch migrants – the more I fell in love with the intense myriad of savoury, spicy, salty, sour, bitter and sweet flavours. But simultaneously, I was surprised that I only truly discovered Indonesian food by moving there.

Rex: The food of Medan is diverse in itself. It comprises tastes from the local Batak people to those from neighbouring West Sumatra to flavours from its neighbour, Malaysia – which sits just across Malacca Strait – and also China.

FOOD

Medan Ciak’s house specialties begin with lontong sayur. This spicy coconut milk soup is laden with rice cake, rendang, fried chicken and vegetables. It’s topped with sliced egg and a good crunch of peanuts and emping (belinjo nut chips known for their slightly bitter taste).

Lontong sayur at Medan Ciak.
Lontong sayur is packed with flavour (Photo: Medan Ciak).

While Indonesia’s population is predominantly Muslim, the Batak people of North Sumatra are mostly Christian, and they love their pork, which features in another Medan Ciak specialty. Kwetiau goreng is a burst of pan fried flat rice noodles with barbeque pork, prawns, Chinese lap cheong sausage and egg.

Cah kew tiau (pan fried flat rice noodles with barbeque pork, prawns, Chinese lap cheong sausage and egg).
The glistening kwetiau goreng (Photo: Medan Ciak).

Andrea: Another delicious part of Medan Ciak is a nod to West Sumatra’s famous Padang cuisine, which has since spread across many parts of Indonesia.

Padang food originated from the Minangkabau people who are indigenous to the Minangkabau Highlands of West Sumatra.

Another delicious part of Medan Ciak is a nod to West Sumatra’s famous Padang cuisine.

Padang restaurants are distinguished by their display of dozens of different plates stacked on top of each other in their window fronts. The cuisine is renowned for its fragrant spices – which also help preserve the dishes – fiery sambal (chilli relish) and curries.

One of its most popular curries is the ever-succulent rendang (a beef curry slow cooked in about two dozen spices including garlic, galangal – also known as pink ginger – lemongrass, turmeric, cloves, nutmeg, paprika, lemongrass, cinnamon, star anise and lime).

Rex: At a Padang restaurant, you can choose a variety of dishes. Your host will spoon a serving of each of your choices onto your plate after you select your rice (white, red or brown).

Rendang
Our spice-laden rendang.

Andrea: The smell of the spices of Medak Ciak’s rendang tempts me instantly. It’s so good we get two serves each!

Rex: We also get the tumis kangkung (stir fry water spinach), which is common through East, South and Southeast Asia. This one is packed with dried shrimps, giving it a full, smoky flavour, and topped with fried garlic.

Cah kangkung terasi
The tumis kangkung.

Andrea: The vivid Padang telur balado (boiled egg in a tomato, chilli, red shallot and lime relish) adds another level of excitement with its piquant kick.

Padang telur balado
We made a good choice with the Padang telur balado.

And how can we go past the Medan-style ayam goreng (fried chicken) drumsticks cooked to a crispy-skin perfection?

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Fried chicken drumsticks.

Rex: I expected the rendang to be the star but the fried chicken is the best. Not only do its flavours pop, but the meat is tender and its skin is both crispy and chewy.

Andrea: The rendang is my favourite for its singing spices, and I’m always partial to the more savoury of rendang recipes like this one.

AMBIENCE

Rex: The colours of the spices and condiments are particularly eye-catching – especially the fire-engine red of Indonesia’s famous sambal.

Andrea: And they seem to pop even more served in the restaurant’s trademark bright orange bowls.

Medan Ciak is a hive of activity. If it’s lunchtime, it’s filled with workers on their break or people coming in to collect their takeaway. If it’s dinnertime, it’s packed with friends unwinding after work or couples chatting about their day over food.

Padang food.
The dishes are colourful thanks to the spices and condiments. (Photo: Medan Ciak).

SERVICE

Rex: Medan Ciak is your classic cheap and cheerful.

For two people who want to try a few different Padang dishes, it’ll probably cost you around $60 each. But if you’re happy with a lontong sayur or a mie goreng (fried noodles) it’ll only set you back $15. But you’ll want to get some cash out beforehand as Medan Ciak doesn’t take cards.

Medan Ciak
Medan Ciak serves takeout and provides catering too (Photo: Medan Ciak).

Andrea: Our waiters are quick to respond to our order and requests – forgetting only one or two things as they race around the packed restaurant multitasking.

Rex: The restaurant serves non-alcoholic beverages and no BYO, but you can’t go wrong with a carton of Indonesia’s iconic Teh Botol (iced jasmine tea).


Medan Ciak | $
Shop 3/460 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills, NSW
Tue-Thurs: 11:00am-3:30pm
Fri-Sun: 11:00am-9:00pm

Medan Ciak City
130 Liverpool St, Sydney, NSW
Mon-Sun: 11:00am-10:00pm

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