Two Indonesian business owners found a lifeline in the form of nasi kapau, a type of Padang food that hails from Bukittinggi city in Indonesia's province of West Sumatra.
In the midst of the pandemic, Rony The, from Indonesian supermarket Grand Laguna in Melbourne, stumbled upon a catering business on Instagram called Tambo Ciek. It was the nasi kapau that caught his eye. Nasi kapau takes the form of pots and bain-marie trays filled with different gulai (saucy and fragrant curry-like dishes) which are arranged in rows. Diners sit down and select which ones they'd like with their rice.
Ezra Toddy, the original owner of Salero Kito, runs Tambo Ciek with his wife. The Jakarta-born chef wraps gulai in banana leaf and delivers the parcels to homesick Indonesians, Malaysians and Aussies craving a taste of the archipelago. During lockdown, The contacted Toddy and began stocking Tambo Ciek nasi kapau as take-home meals at Grand Laguna.
"After a few months we were selling 80 to 100 pieces a day at the supermarket, within hours," says The. "When we put it up on Instagram and said tomorrow nasi kapau is coming between 11am and 12pm, people were texting and calling asking, 'Is it coming yet? When it is coming?' on the same day."
Meanwhile, The's Japanese okonomiyaki restaurant, Oko Oko, was suffering. It was located in Carlton near major universities, but many of its international student customers had returned home. Trade was dwindling, and The needed to act.
"I'm Indonesian, so I know Padang is everyone's food," he says. "In Indonesia, if you're rich, if you're poor, you're eating Padang. So I thought, in this market, I'm sure this business can run."
"In Indonesia, if you're rich, if you're poor, you're eating Padang."
The and Toddy joined forces to replace Oko Oko with a brick-and-mortar version of Tambo Ciek, which opened quietly in January 2021. The store is mostly the same — even the okonomiyaki-inspired wall graphics remain — but now there's an enticing bain-marie to replicate the Padang-style of dining and shelving of Indonesian snacks. According to The, Indonesian customers have been helping themselves to packets of krupuk (crunchy fried crackers) to eat on the side of their meals.
The generous size of the nasi kapau at Tambo Ciek might limit you from practicing the namesake phrase. "In Indonesia, you eat at a Padang restaurant and then when you want more, you say, 'Hey, tambo ciek!' It means 'can I get one more?' It's very common," explains Toddy.
Rendang is one of the signature dishes you can order with your nasi kapau. It takes up to 10 hours to cook and there are five varieties: beef, chicken, lamb, jengkol (similar to petai or stink bean, but nuttier) and paru (beef lung). According to Toddy, you wont find paru rendang anywhere else in Melbourne.
Other popular dishes include dendeng (crispy beef); beef in thick, yellow sate made with rice flour and turmeric; sop buntut (oxtail soup) and usus tambusu, a sausage made from beef intestine stuffed with tofu and herbs. Just like at the Padang restaurants in West Sumatra, the huge repertoire of gulai rotate daily.
Thanks to the distribution ability of Grand Laguna, Tambo Ciek's nasi kapau is lockdown-proof and can be shipped both within Melbourne and interstate. Keep an eye on their Instagram for updates and specials.
644A Swanston Street, Carlton