The Spicy World of Sumatera

Rooted heavily in the spice trade, expect bolder taste and flavours from the region of Sumatera.

One of the most distinctive things about Indonesian cuisine is the different depths of flavours in each region. While the Javanese love to use sugar in almost every dish, Sumatera is much more heavily influenced by the spice trade. In the northern area of Sumatera, Indian and Chinese cultures have influenced the delicacies, while the western part of the archipelago was the first port of call for Indian and Arab traders.

Padang, located in west Sumatera, is most renowned for its delicacies, not just in Sumatera but also across Indonesia. Padang food restaurant chains can be found everywhere, including neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. Aside from Padang, Medan is also known for its wonderfully diverse offering of dishes. If you’re keen to get to know more about Sumateran fare, here are some of our favourite dishes.


Voted the world’s best food in 2011 by CNN, rendang is a meat-based curry that is cooked for over 12 hours using heaps of different spices. In order to make rendang, spices like cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, lemongrass leaves, dry chillies, garlic and shallots are simmered with the meat until the curry is dry. When it is ready to eat, the meat is fully coated in those beautiful spices and can be stored in a freezer for a year without losing the taste.

Gulai Ayam

In English, this dish would be translated to chicken curry. A favourite among many, the scent of this fragrant curry is what draws you to into a Padang restaurant. Cooked in coconut milk and fresh curry paste, the combination of succulent chicken meat and spicy flavours are sure to make you beg for more.


Originating from southern Sumatera, pempek is fried fishcake served with cuko, or sweet spicy vinegar as the dipping sauce. Found in a variety of shapes and forms, pempek is usually eaten as a snack between meals or to sate that late-night hunger.


Why is durian on this list? Because Medan and Palembang are the two places in Sumatera that grow this fruit in abundance. While many link durian to the ones found in Thailand, the Indonesian variety is actually less sweet and has a smoother texture.