A typical Padang restaurant displays their already cooked dishes in the front window, often consisting of curries of fish, beef, chicken, and jackfruit. Once you take your seat in the restaurant, instead of handing you a menu, the server will begin to place platters of food on your table. Pick out the ones you think look good, and serve them onto your plate. When you’re done, the server will come back, take a look at the dishes, and judge how much food you took from them. Then he’ll move the dishes with remaining food on them back to the front window or onto the table of another customer for them to enjoy.
Conditions: The default way to eat is with your right hand (the left hand is dirty). If you don't want to get your hands greasy (or temporarily blind yourself later by absentmindedly rubbing your eyes with spicy fingers), don't be afraid to ask for a "sendok" (spoon). Also, the glass bottles on the table are not for drinking - they're for rinsing your hands off over the little bowls on the table when you're done.
A number of restaurants have opened up (notably Koi Taste, Sinar Resto, Q2 Steak, Cafe Mini, and Hola Cafe), that provide an actual menu and make the food fresh to order. Varieties of Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng (Fried Rice and Fried Noodles) still make up the bulk of the menu, but it’s possible to order Indonesian style steak, chicken breasts, capcai (a vegetable stir-fry) and some other similar foods that aren’t quite as spicy and can make a welcome respite from Padang food if you’ve been travelling in the area for a while.
Conditions: Don't forget to order a fresh fruit juice while you're there! "Jus Alpokat," or avacado juice with chocolate syrup, and "Jus Mangga," mango juice, are my personal favorites.
The most ubiquitous and famous of all Padang cuisine is the spiced beef curry dish of Rendang. Minangkabau food is renowned throughout Indonesia and Southeast Asia as some of the spiciest around, but you can usually find some regular fried chicken or nasi goreng (fried rice) if you’re not up for the burn.
One food unique to Kerinci is “Dendeng Batokok,” which are strips of beef or water buffalo that are dried, fried, boiled and grilled into tender, delicious perfection. Easily my favorite food in all of Indonesia.
Conditions: If you are worried about the level of spiciness, ask them if they can prepare your food "tanpa cabe" (without hot chili peppers). Often times, as long as the food has not already been prepared, they're happy to oblige.
The famous barbeque sticks of “Sate” come in peanut-based forms as well as the more common West Sumatran varieties in an offal-based red or yellow sauce, and in a variety of meats including chicken, beef, and goat. “Martabak” is a sweet pancake sandwich with your choice of filling, including chocolate, coconut, and banana. “Martabak Mesir” is made from an egg and flour based batter poured out and filled with meat and vegetables, then folded up into a square.
“Risoles” and other “gorengan," or fried foods, come in a variety of forms: some as simple as fried tofu and others more like a vegetable-filled eggroll. “Mie Bakso” is a soup of instant noodles and a few veggies, with “Bakso” meatballs.
Conditions: It's usually easy to find street vendors in the main areas of town and close to the "pasar" (market). They also like to congregate outside of elementary and high schools when they let out for the day. The best place to see a variety of street foods in one place is at the carnival-like "Pasar Malam" (night market) just north of the sports field in the center of Sungai Penuh.