Indonesia and Malaysia have long been involved in a tug of war over claims of rightful ownership concerning heritage articles. One of them is Rendang, which the Malaysians declared to be theirs in 2009. In my opinion, such disputes are akin to the age-old chicken or egg causality dilemma. With both countries’ geographical location and their near-identical cultures, it’s difficult to determine who founded what first.
This food-culture uncertainty came back to haunt me during my recent trip to Medan when I sampled the city’s signature Laksa Medan on Jalan Yose Rizal. The 40-year-old joint serves the tamarind-based soup with noodles, mackerels, and mint leaves, which after a sip reminded me of the refreshing taste of Penang’s Assam Laksa.
While its soup has a lighter consistency, there’s no doubt that it features a flavour that is identical to Penang’s trademark dish. And after flipping through its menu, I found out that they also serve Cendol, which would definitely remind Penangites of their hometown.
Intrigued, I questioned the founder’s daughter Sri to clear the air. She informed me that it was her mother who came up with the dish, and it was she who started the business at the tender age of 20 years old. Sri picked up where her mum left off without any knowledge of the history behind the food items on its menu.
As I exited the establishment, I realised that Medan and Penang share a related cultural background: the Chinese-descent folks in either cities – or the Peranakan people – originated from the same province in China, and they speak in a similar dialect. I suppose it would be best to leave such an issue to a historian; as a food writer, though, I really couldn’t give a hoot. Be it Penang or Medan, I love both their Laksa equally.
Jl. Yoze Rizal, Medan,
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am-6.30pm
Rp.30,000/US$2.30 per person