I have several times mentioned Padang-style restaurants, where all the dishes are set before you and you only eat and pay for what you want. Many very small restaurants and warungs simply offer rice with one meat or vegetable dish: nasi ayam, for example, is rice with chicken cooked in the local manner. A little higher up the scale are small businesses which serve rice with a number of meat and vegetable dishes, with sauces, on a single plate. Every region has its favourite variations on this simple idea. Elsewhere in the book you will find nasi rames and nasi tumpeng, both from Java; the first is sold in countless little eating houses, the second is reserved for selamatan.
Nasi Kapau is extremely popular in the Bukittinggi area, and the classic place to eat it is Uni Lis, a small open-sided space under some concrete additions to the Pasar Atas. It has something in common with a food court or a self-service restaurant in that the various things you can eat with your rice are displayed in bowls on the counter. You choose four or five dishes from a total of about sixteen, and the young lady puts them on your plate, wielding with great accuracy a long-handled spoon made of a polished segment of coconut shell lashed to a length of split bamboo. What comes to table is just your plate, well piled with food.
Most people eat with their fingers (using the right hand only), but spoons and forks, as well as finger-bowls, are provided for anyone who wants them. The food is extremely good, well cooked and fresh, because the place is popular and nothing hangs around being warmed up. In the meat section the gulai are almost all made from offal: liver, heart, intestines, and so on. There are ten different dishes here, including pangek ikan and gulai paku. Every dish is the same price, which is low even by local standards: in January 1993, we paid Rp 1,000 each, equivalent to about 35 pence or 50 US cents.
Uni Lis herself is a Minang lady from the village of Kapau, who came to Bukittinggi with a few friends and neighbours and started this profitable business some years ago. They have many imitators all over West Sumatra, and the name ‘nasi Kapau’ has passed into the culinary language. The dishes served with the rice have plenty of chillies in them, and nearly all are in sauces made hot, yellow and sour by chillies, turmeric and tamarind. The one dish that everyone has is gulai kacang panjang, a gulai of yard-long beans; this is made exactly as the gulai paku described (but don’t cut up the beans, in this case they should be cooked whole). The beans are always the first dish put on to the rice as your plate is made up, and one mark of a nasi Kapau place is the uncut beans in the gulai. Other vegetable dishes are gulai nangka (jackfruit), gulai rebung (bamboo shoots), gulai tempe and cabbage gulai, as well as boiled cassava leaves.
An interesting omission is beef rendang. I have never seen beef rendang in a nasi Kapau; however, it is usually replaced by chicken rendang, sometimes with some tamarind water added to it. Besides the meat dishes, there are six vegetable dishes, and if you don’t say ‘no’ to any of them, all six vegetables will be on your plate. If you just have these, and no meat, your bill will be even lower.
© 1994 Sri Owen. All rights reserved.