NORTH SUMATRA – Stretched across the island of Sumatra between the Indian Ocean and the Strait Malacca within 70,787 sq km width, making this province at the fourth rank of the most populous provinces after West Java, Central Java, and East Java. As it has heterogeneous ethnic groups derived by varied cultures such as Indian, Arabic, Chinese, and Malay, it is no wonder that the food is influenced and accentuated by those traits as well, emphasizing its existence of traditional cuisine that should be experienced.
1. Daun Ubi Tumbuk
Prevalent veggie dish found in North Sumatra consisting of pounded cassava leaves. Literally in English, daun means leaves, ubi means cassava, and tumbuk means pounded. The cooking process can be implemented eitherin traditional (using a wooden mortar and pestle while pounding) ormodern way (involving blender or food processor to do pureeing). A fried spice taste is the main ingredient to give such distinctive, savory, and delectable taste that cannot be forgotten along with coconut milk and anchovy and cempokak, a bitter-small eggplant. Usually, Bataknese people choose to have a plate of saksang on their menus while consuming the dish.
2. Sambal Tuk Tuk
The typical spicy and hot condiment originated from Mandailing, Tapanuli (one of Bataknese tribes). For most Indonesians, eating a plate of rice without adding sambal or chili will be flat and dull. Because of the motto, in every region of Indonesia has abundant kind of chilies. What makes it different from ubiquitous chilies in other is the use of ikanaso-aso (a type of dried Indian mackerel or rastrelliger) as the core ingredient along with Bataknese pepper and common chili-sauce seasonings. Sometimes, the fish itself can be substituted with anchovy as the variant. Prevalently, Bataknese people often have this chili while having roasted chicken or fish.
One of Bataknese essential dishes as it is often served at weddings, funerals, church celebrations, and other cultural celebrations. Pork or dog meat is commonly used while making the dish. Sometimes, it involves chicken, beef, and even water buffalo meat that may sound bizarre and unusual to be consumed. After the meat is minced, the combination of traditional spices along with Thai pepper, turmeric, and andaliman pepper (the fruit of a native shrub similar to Szechuan and Japanese sansho pepper) will be blended perfectly with the meat, bringing out the spicy, yummy, and incredible taste ever. The broth, in fact, contains an animal’s blood to make it more vivid and reddish.
4. Manuk Napinadar
Known as ayam napinadar, ayam namargota, or ayam pinadar, it is spicy grilled chicken that uses andaliman pepper as one of the main spices to enhance and boost up an appetite especially among Bataknese people while on certain customary feasts. According to Bataknese language, manuk means chicken and napinadar means cooked with blood. In the eyes of Moslems, most of Bataknese food may sound peculiar and exotic as blood is considered haram or forbidden. So, it is no wonder if Indonesian blood-based dishes are not quite popular. Despite its weird look, the basic seasonings (similar to saksang cuisine) greatly blended with the blood, creating a harmonious taste beyond the imagination.
It is a stewed carp or gold fish cuisine that uses kecombrang (torch ginger), lokio (Bataknese local shallots), and andaliman pepper as the key ingredients. There are several recipes of making Arsik dish, according to Batak Karo and Mandailing style. Excluding several components (andaliman and lokio), Karonese people use the torch ginger flower and its fruit called asam cekala. On the other hand, Mandailing style involves turmeric leaves and asam kandis (a type of garnicia fruit family) derived by Minang cuisine (Western part of Sumatra) in the dish instead of asam cekala. Because gold fish has such succulent yet chewy texture, several cook variations can be implemented either by serving it fried, roasted, or steamed.
6. Dengke (Dekke) Naniura
Another Bataknese fish-based cuisine besides arsik dish that is originated from North Tapanuli. In Bataknese language, dengke (re: dekke) means fish, na-ni means the process, and ura means sour (lime / lemon juice). In other words, naniura is a pickled raw fish using grass carp (ikan mas) and kaffir lime juice (known as jeruk jungga) emblazoned with chili-turmeric based seasonings as well as peanut and candlenut. Because of the varied ingredients used, a hybrid taste coming out from the dish starting from sour, spicy, nutty up to numb sensation even though the fish is not fried or baked at first.
7. Bihun Bebek
A Chinese-influenced dish that is typically happening among Medanese people. Bihun or vermicelli is one of Asian rice noodles served in most soup dishes or stir-fry. According to Asie, a pioneer vermicelli and duck broth seller, the soup itself is varied into two types. One is herbs-based, and the other one is duck-based. Besides, creating the duck broth needs double time and effort as its fishy smell is pretty strong while being processed. So, most of the customers will have their broth within a taste of herbal in their menus. The scrumptious delicacy comes from the broth itself completed with shredded fried shallot, small-sliced spring onion, and sliced sawi (Chinese green mustard veggie type).
8. Mie Gomak
Mie or noodle has become a food staple not only in Indonesia, but also in most of the countries in the world. In several parts of North Sumatra region (especially in Batak Toba, Sibolga, and Tapanuli), the noodle dish is served and cooked uniquely (referred to gomak, in Bataknese language that means grabbed or used by hands). The noodle’s texture is like spaghetti in Italia, becoming a good rival to the Italian spaghettithat should be tried. Andaliman pepper cannot be forgotten especially while cooking Bataknese cuisine as it brings specialty to the taste and aroma as well. Most Bataknese people will have a bowl of mie gomak with a pair of boiled duck egg.
9. Kue Ombus-Ombus
Considered as the lovely traditional sweet from Siborong-Borong, North Tapanuli Regency shaped in a cone or circle with / without using a banana leaf to maintain its originality. In most Bataknese ceremonies, especially the custom of laying the first stone while having a new house, ombus-ombus also becomes a favorite meal within a cup of coffee or tea. As the ingredient used is exactly the same like the way of making kue lampet, it is scarce to spot any differences between these two cakes. The similarities between these two sweets are they will be perfect if consumed while still warm as the aroma still dwells, and both of these cakes are not really popular except among Bataknese people.
10. Kue Lampet (Lappet)
One of Bataknese traditional cakes in a pyramid look besides kue ombus-ombus. In certain occasions, it is accompanied by a cup of coffee or tea as the side dish for Bataknese people. Consisting of rice flour, coconut, and palm sugar wrapped with a banana leaf, lampet (re: lappet in Bataknese acent) has such a unique taste as the combination of rice flour and palm sugar blended flawlessly. According to the other references, kue lampet has two versions based on the main ingredient. The first one is made of rice flour, and the other one uses glutinous rice flour. No matter what ingredient is used, the taste and aroma never lies as it successfully fulfills those who crave for a sweet-tooth dish.
11. Bika Ambon
A yellow-square cake consisting of tapioca flour, eggs, sugar, yeast, and coconut milk that starts to be recognized not only in Indonesia, but also abroad. In Malaysia, this sweet dish is acknowledged as bingka ambon or kueh ambon. Perhaps, most people assume that this dish comes from Ambon, the name of a city in Maluku province in the Eastern region of Indonesia. However, it is not the signature dish from Maluku. Scrutinizing through the cooking process, the yeast contributes much of making bika ambon, creating spongy and chewy texture when it is baked. Several variants such as banana, durian, cheese, and chocolate are sold in food stall especially at Mojopahit Street, Medan Petisah. Do not leave Medan without trying and buying bika ambon as a souvenir, most people say.
12. Bolu Gulung Meranti
This is a not-to-forget food souvenir besides bika ambon while visiting Medan. Its creamy, cylinder, and yellow image successfully creates the impression of the most wanted cake among tourists. Nowadays, the cake roll comes up with several variants starting from its fillings such as coffee, pandan srikaya, abon (flossed meat), mocha, pineapple, blueberries, strawberries, and cheese as well. Apparently, most people will have 6 up to 8 boxes of bolu meranti(s) to be presented among family members and friends as it is rarely to be found outside North Sumatra region. Even though some people find it a way too sweet, but the taste can not be forgettable. One of the famous bolu gulung meranti vendors is located at Kruing and Sisingamangaraja Street.
13. Roti Ketawa
For North Sumatra people, this type of bread is ubiquitous and has a sense of joke as roti means bread and ketawa means laugh, literally. In other words, this dish is also called onde-onde ketawa (a fried brown ball-rounded cake shredded with sesame seeds with a “smile” on the surface). Its rounded shape completed with a slice appeared on the surface makes it look like a curvy smile. No wonder if people are interested in trying this dish hoping for a jubilant and exuberant feeling after eating it. The bread has a tough but frail texture especially after cooked. Because of the hot pressure from the oil makes baking soda reacts by tearing up the dough, the dish is called as the laughing bread.
14. Tuak and Nira
It is one of Bataknese local beverages that is often consumed by adults in most celebrations, making of this habit a compulsory to do. Tuak comes from a sap (known as nira) of Aren palm tree. Then, the branch is cut off and its juice is extracted combined with raru bark to be mixed up. After 3 hours, the fermentation becomes tuak. If the fermentation is sat for too long, it will be very sour and taste like a vinegar. Based on the research, tuak has lower alcohol percentage compared to beer and wine. However, most people judge tuak as forbidden as it contains alcohol that can make people easily drunk. Somewhat, this drink becomes a culture of Bataknese people that cannot be separated.
15. Dali Ni Horbo
Bataknese specialty of water buffalo milk originated from Tapanuli, North Sumatra. It contains 40 percent more protein compared to dairy cow milk. Dali ni horbo can be processed as a drink (by clobbering it with pineapple or papaya leaf juice) or as an arsik (by boiling it with several ingredients such as chili, cassava leaf, and andaliman pepper, making it like a greenish tofu dish). Many people adore this dish as the cooking process is not complicated. Besides, it can be found not only at traditional market but also at modern market in Batak. As it is healthy and scrumptious, undoubtedly the dish drags both young and old people to love it.