Photo: Medan street scenes.

Eat and meet

Food in Medan is a mix of the cultures of all those who reside here and is heavier on pork than almost any other large city in Indonesia, due primarily to the influence of Bataks and Chinese Indonesians. As is the case in nearby Malaysia, you’ll find that food from ethnic Chinese people is tastier and more interesting than food generally experienced in China itself due to the influence of local flavours on these dishes over the centuries. Medan is known throughout Indonesia as a city to visit for the purposes of eating and we think that Medan deserves an extra day in your itinerary if you’re game to run the gauntlet and try some great local food.

Merdeka Walk is a good place to start. Located at the front of the field across from the main train station, many stalls set up here every night serving everything from dim sum to martabak. If you want to try proper Indonesian food in a more refined setting than a grubby streetside stall, this is the place to come. Metal tables and chairs are clean, tiled floors ensure your feet don’t get dirty and food is as authentic as anywhere else in town. This is a good starting point for your culinary journey.

Pilastro is a modern cafe on Jalan Bukit Barisan No.3, the road that circles the field in front of the main train station. Served are a large selection of locally sourced coffees brewed according to your preference -- espresso, syphon, pour over, chemex and so on. Aside from being serious about coffee, Pliastro also dishes up a wide selection of snacks and main meals which are predominantly Western in flavour. Items such as steaks, pasta, wedges, burgers and crepes all make an appearance as do some rice and noodles dishes. Open throughout the day and into the night, it’s a great spot to come and chill out in air-con comfort while surfing the free WiFi.

Bihun Bebek Kumango Koh Asie is a small rumah makan only open in the morning and serving delicious thin rice noodles topped with piles of succulent duck or chicken. The noodles are typical bihun while the meat is free from large sheets of fat and skin that quite often taints lesser versions of this dish. It comes with a hearty broth which can either be poured onto the noodles or simply enjoyed as a side dish. Some claim that Bihun Bebek Kumango is expensive and the claim is somewhat justified, but you do get a lot of duck for your 50,000 rupiah. This place is located on Jalan Kumango and it’s the duck that’s most popular rather than the chicken.

Mie Tiong Sim is an old-school Chinese eatery great for getting a pork fix. The mie pangsit is a bowl of noodles tossed in pork oil and topped with pork wontons, marinated barbecue pork, crispy fried pork fat bits, shredded chicken and a smattering of green veg. The accompanying soup is a bit bland, but some may like it unsalted as it is. Located on Jalan Selat Panjang are a bunch of food carts and rumah makan aside from this one selling all sorts of dishes. Mie pangsit is 30,000 rupiah.

Jalan Perniagaan is famous for its roti canai, roti tisu and martabak, all Indian influenced meals. Two stalls in particular here are worth checking out: Martabak Gapa and Martabak Saren. Both offer more or less the same menu from their streetside carts and both have a reputation for being delicious. Interestingly, roti canai here can be had sweet in contrast to the savoury type you usually encounter in Malaysia. The martabak telur is essentially the Medan take on a Spanish omelette and is delicious. Prices start at around 10,000 rupiah and go up based on complexity of the dish ordered.

Packed with locals from 08:00 until 15:00, Soto Kesawan is a small warung on Jalan Ahmad Yani which serves incredible curry prawn soup or soto udang. The soup is coconut milk based and is infused with a mix of spices and topped with piles of large peeled and ready to eat prawns so that every mouthful of the velvety broth contains at least one hunk. Also served here and highly recommended is the roti canai with curry. It’s slightly different to the type regularly experienced in Malaysia with the curry being slightly more spicy and bitter and the roti more crumpled and smashed -- perfect for dipping. This is a great place for local food and is conveniently located just across from Tjiong A Fie Mansion.

Corner Cafe Raya is located directly behind Mesjid Raya and close to many of the surrounding budget hotels. It’s a classic backpacker shack serving up Western and Indonesian food at good prices. You’ll get a nasi goreng for 15,000 rupiah, pasta and toast plus a range of juices and even reasonably priced beer. For those staying in the area, this is an easy option.

Rumah Makan Sinar Pagi is a must visit if you’re into coconut milk-based dishes. This medium-sized local eatery is busy with people slurping on bowls of delicious soto ayam and soto daging. The soto ayam is a fragrant soupy dish comprised of coconut milk infused with a barrage of spices and mounds of shredded chicken. The daging version is the same except that beef replaces the chicken. You’ll find staff here trying to sell you all sorts of other snacks including perkedel, which are tasty fried balls of mashed potato. This place is a fantastic option for those wanting to dive into Indonesian food. Located on Jalan Sei Deli, a 15-minute walk or 10,000 rupiah becak ride from the train station. Soto ayam costs 25,000 rupiah. Open 08:00 to 15:00 only.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Medan? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Indonesia.

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