Monday, November 16, 2015

[Travel/ Food Guide] Itinerary to Medan/ Lake Toba, Indonesia (棉兰, 印度尼西亚).

One of the most-visited and nearest international destinations to Penang would be Medan at our neighboring country- Indonesia. It does not take a long haul flight to reach Medan... in fact, it takes approximately 50 minutes to reach the town. The metropolis in North Sumatera has a bad reputation- pollution, poverty, tourist scams etc but it is undeniably, the perfect place for experience the local Indonesian culture. The food scene, on the other hand, is interesting enough to explore. While it does preserve the traditional Indonesian eats, international delicacies can be easily found in most prestigious shopping malls. Our 3 Day- 2 Night trip was a little hectic... which comprises of a night stay at Medan city and another at Tuk Tuk, Samosir (most known as Lake Toba). Also, if you must know... we flew with Air Asia (direct flight from Penang International Airport) and it was an eye-opener to testify against Tony Fernandes' saying "My Indonesian passengers bring their house and their neighbor's house with them when they travel". 

Getting Out of Kualanamu (KNO) International Airport:
We would recommend taking a cab to the city but not all Cabs are reliable. Our local friend- Tim, recommended us to take "Bluebird's" cab. The metered cab is reliable and can be easily found across the city. The ride will take approximately one hour with a price tag of around 200,000 Rupiah. We took multiple rides of cab (via Bluebird) to explore the city as well, the fares were inexpensive and reasonable for the 4 of us. In case you are wondering, we stayed at Hotel Polonia, 5 minutes drive away from Sun Plaza.

1) Bihun Bebek Kumango
Address: Jalan Kumango
Business Hours: 6:30 am to 12 pm. Closed on Sundays.

Bihun Bebek Kumango (60,000 Rupiah)

One of the must-try iconic dishes at Medan is Bihun Bebek and this particular stall manned by a Chinese uncle whom speaks decent Mandarin at a narrow alley- Jalan Kumango, a stone's throw distance away from Merdeka Walk (Jalan Balai Kota). Kumango's is believed to be the most expensive but it commensurate in terms of quality and generosity of the Duck meat (Duck is known as Bebek in Indonesian language). Thick Vermicelli Noodles were first blanched and tossed with light Soy Sauce... laden with bountiful of deboned Stewed Duck meat, completed with copious amount of Deep Fried Garlic and Spring Onions. The meat possessed the perfect texture- soft yet with a satisfying meatiness. A close relative to our version of Koay Teow Th'ng and for the very first time... I actually had a bowl of Noodles with more meat than the noodles. To complete your dining experience, a bowl of thick, rich and creamy Duck broth will be served together. It could not be more satisfying, we highly recommend adding this place to your itinerary. 

2) Soto Kesawan
Address: Jalan Ahmad Yani 116, Medan.
Business Hours: 8 am to 3 pm. Opens Daily.

Soto Ayam (22,000 Rupiah)

Soto Udang (25,000 Rupiah)

A common and traditional soup at Indonesia- Soto... comes in many variants. We had ours at a local famous place with relentless queue thronging the place as early as 9 in the morning. The concoction (meat broth) was creamy due to the addition of Coconut Milk and there are various meats available- Beef, Chicken and Shrimps. It shares some similarities as our Curry Mee. A plate of White Rice and a concoction of Green Chili were served to us as well. We did not like the dip but the Soto was alright, though it was too heavy for breakfast; we still thought it was a great experience to learn about the local culture and food scene.

3) Crazy Crab
Address: Level 3, Sun Plaza, Jalan Kh. Zainul Arifin No. 7, Sumatera Utara, Medan.
Business Hours: 10 am to 9 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +061- 450 1546

Combo 1- Crabs, Shrimps, Squids, Clams, Corns, Carrots and Potatoes (serves 4/ 428,000 Rupiah+)

Avocado Juice (75,200 Rupiah+)

One of the most enjoyable meals we had at Medan was at Crazy Crabs at Sun Plaza (one of the largest malls at Medan). The concept is not new (though it may be still new to Penang)- cooked Seafood will be served on table and diners will be eating them using hands. Crazy Crabs' comes in a twist- available in few types of sauces: Angry Curry, Vampire Sauce, White Cream Sauce, White Pepper Sauce, Black Pepper Sauce etc. We opted for Combo 1 which was good enough for the 4 of us. Generous amount of Seafood was presented to us in a glimpse of an eye; heavily drenched in the seemingly fiery hot, thick Sauce. We enjoyed every bits of it, the Seafood was fresh and succulent. The sauce was expectedly Peppery with an indelible sweetness; we thought it worked well with the Seafood and certainly suits our typical Malaysian taste buds. The joy of picking your preferred items on the table adds to the overall dining experience. We washed everything down with a cup of Avocado Juice (a must-try drink at Medan). This is a place that you don't want to miss.

4) LARC Soft Serve
Address: Level 4, Sun Plaza, Jalan Kh. Zainul Arifin No. 7, Sumatera Utara, Medan.
Business Hours: 10 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.

Green Tea Soft Serve with Chocolate Cookies (35,000 Rupiah)

Red Velvet Soft Serve with Honey Comb (35,000 Rupiah)

While browsing the mall, we noticed a humble Ice Cream parlor that serves interesting Soft Serve. We tried two different flavors- Green Tea and Red Velvet; both the flavors did not shine. The former flavor was weak and we thought it could be more apparent; the latter one was a confused-mediocre that has nary flavor in it. If you are looking for something to beat the heat, this might be an option; forget about it otherwise. 

5) Macehat Coffee
Address: Jalan Karo, No. 20, Medan.
Business Hours: 10 am to 7 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +061- 452 9944

Avocado Coffee Float (35,000 Rupiah)

Mie Ayam Jamur (25,000 Rupiah)

Risoles (22,000 Rupiah)

Macehat Coffee is the talk of the town and it is one of the highly-rated cafes in Medan. We were there early and the place was rather empty but as we were enjoying the food, regular patrons started to flood the place and it was completely full the moment we left the place. Macehat Coffee is famous for its Avocado Coffee Float; the drink is multi-dimensional... blended Avocado at the bottom and mixed with Chocolate Syrup and topped with Chocolate Powder (possibly Milo) and a scoop of Chocolate Ice Cream. The catch is to pour a cup of Espresso over the float. It was creamy with a sleek refreshing Avocado flavor yet chocolaty while the caffeine boost introduced another layer of incredible flavor to the drink... something that you could not find in Penang. The other snacks were alright, though we did not think they were out of the world delicious; Macehat Coffee can be an ideal place to enjoy your Cup of Joe. The place can be a little tricky to locate, we'd recommend taking a cab and that might save you a lot of time. 

Here are some shots taken while we were wandering the city:

"Betor"- Beca (It means Trishaw in Bahasa Indonesian) + Motorcycle

An old uncle carrying his bike 

The bustling street in front of Merdeka Walk

Centre Point Mall- another large shopping mall at Medan

Getting to Lake Toba/ Parapat/ Tuk Tuk Samosir from Medan City:
Danau/ Lake Toba is a famous destination for international tourists and it is not uncommon for tourists to travel from Medan City. There are two ways of getting to Parapat (the jetty to take the ferry to Tuk Tuk):
  1. Hire a car with driver (the cost ranges from 700,000 Rupiah to 1,200,000 Rupiah/ seats up to 4 passengers); it takes approximately 4 hours to reach Parapat.
  2. Take an economical bus from Amplas Bus Terminal to Parapat (a ticket costs 40,000 Rupiah); it takes approximately 5.5 hours to 6 hours to reach Parapat (Do not consider this option if you do not speak their language).

The "unappetizing" interior of the very old shuttle bus (probably older than me).

We have experienced both travel methods (we took an economical bus from Medan to Parapat and hired a car (Toyota Innova) with driver from Parapat back to Kualanamu International Airport). The first one can be throat-cutting but if you are travelling in a group of 4, that evens out the cost. It is also a more comfortable way of travelling (though it can be a extremely tiring due to the bumpy road) compared to the second option. 

The decision to take the latter option (by economical bus) was a huge mistake. Amplas Bus Terminal was a run-down place with dirty washrooms and no facilities (such as air-conditioners) at all. The bus was an antique on the road with no air-conditioners... even the seats were flimsy and they could not even shut the door properly. The bus constantly picks up passengers on the way to Parapat and our total travelling time was 5.5 hours. It was humid and stuffy, the passengers will simply squeeze in and stand next to you when there are no empty seats left (yes, they will keep picking up passengers even the bus is full). Imagine the sleepless and exhausting journey. As far as safety and comfortness are concerned, this option should be your last resort. 

If you are staying at Tomok or Tuk Tuk, you will need to take a ferry to cross the lake. The last ferry operates until 6 pm only so you will have to carefully plan your trip there (especially if you are taking the economical bus, as the time can be unpredictable). There are different jetties to take the ferry, depending on where you are heading to. Do ask the locals and they will be able to assist you (though speaking Malay/ Indonesian may help). The ride from Parapat to Tuk Tuk costs 15,000 Rupiah and takes around 30 to 45 minutes. The breeze in the middle of the lake can be chilly so if you are sensitive to change in temperature, get yourself prepared. 

If you are looking for a place to enjoy a local meal, we'd recommend Alyssa's Restaurant, a short 5 minute-walk from our stay- Toba Village Inn; Alyssa's is also next to Tabo Cottages.

Gado-Gado (30,000 Rupiah)

Bacon Hawaiian Pizza (47,000 Rupiah)

Baked Fish/ Ikan Bakar (45,000 Rupiah)

Every dish we had at Alyssa's was impeccable with their Ikan Bakar left us the deepest impression. The 8-ounces fresh water Fish was halved and grilled to perfection. We believe that some sort of Sweet sauce must have been spread over the fish as we did taste a hint of sweetness. The pristine-white flesh was mind-blowing; the fish was so fresh that the tongue detected its umami-ness at the very first touch. We were recommended that we should savor the Fish together with their traditional spiced sauce... it carried some elements that numb the tongue... commonly known as "Ma" (麻) in Mandarin. It has the perfect salinity to complement the Fish as well. It was ethereal and we had a second helping. If you don't like your to have your Fish grilled, you may opt for the Sweet & Sour version at 35,000 Rupiah but we'd prefer their Ikan Bakar.

Assuage the guilt by indulging some fresh greens, Alyssa suggested us to go for their Gado-Gado (Indonesian Rojak/ Salad) and we gladly obliged. The sauce was nicely done, somewhat similar to our Peanut dip that goes with Satay. The Gado-Gado comprises a lot of greens, not only the usual Salad greens but crunchy greens like Cauliflower, Carrots as well. 

We did not have much time to spare at Lake Toba so we hired a driver with car (Toyota Rush) for two hours (400,000 Rupiah) via the hotel (Toba Village Inn). We took a casual ride to visit a museum as well as up the hill for a panoramic view of Lake Toba. Here are some of the shots taken during our stay at Lake Toba...

Siallagan Ambarita (a tomb of King Siallagan/ entrance fee of 3,000 Rupiah per person)

Friendly Dogs smiling to us 

Harvesting Coffee Beans

Panoramic View of the Lake

A mansion by the lake side

Fisherman started their daily routine as early as 6:30 am in the morning.

Our stay- Toba Village Inn (great service but the room was disappointingly average with no air-conditioners)

Water Lily

The Paddy Field right next to the Inn

Visitor having fun with his ride

Other resort from the other side of the island

Have Fun Exploring Medan and Lake Toba!