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Padang is a cuisine originating from western Sumatra, Indonesia, but popular all across the archipelago. It's pretty much guaranteed that you'll find a "Rumah Makan Padang" (Padang restaurant) in any decently sized city in Indonesia.

It's easy to recognise a Padang restaurant: if you see a small place with dozens of bowls of strongly scented curries and soups behind a glass window, take a few steps towards the door and take a big breath. You'll know.

Once you're seated, the waiter will come with dozens of bowls, stacked on each other in an incredible balancing feat. Each bowl has a different dish: soups, curries, meats and fish basted in coconut milk, all for you to spoon to your big bowl of rice and sample. The charge is based on what you eat, so feel free to sample a bit of everything, including that thing which looks like lung.

This stuff is very spicy. I pride myself on having a high tolerence to spicy food: I handle most Indonesian food easily, and can even survive authentic Thai Tom yam soup (which is a different species from the western variety) quite well, but I never suffered so as my times at the Rumah makan padang. Of course, it was the sweetest kind of suffering.

I've never heard of a Padang joint in North America, although I'm sure they exist. As with so many other south east Asian experiences, I'm not sure whether to endorse it either. Taking it away from being the orginal local streetside hangout and making it an expensive specialty cuisine with expensive decor is somehow takes out half the flavour.

Maybe I'm being elitist, but it makes me sad whenever I see what was once a respected tenet of a culture, an institution collecting legends and rumours in the ranks of the locals that it feeds, being gentrified into John and Jane Doe's idea of an exotic evening out.

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