What can you say about a restaurant that packs it in at 7 in the morning and cobbles together Malays, Chinese, Bataks, Javanese, Indians, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, old, young, males, females, old-timers, out-of-towners, bettor-drivers (bettor is a mix of becak and motorcycle), cops, civil servants, you name it?
And what do they do? They come in, clog the tables, order a bowl of soto Medan, sit back and mind their own business. Meanwhile, a woman wearing a jilbab stands sentry at the stock station, ladling great amounts of broth into bowls while a portly man in front of them spoon out rice onto bright orange plastic plates.
Another man is woefully tasked with manning the seasoning station—the least glamorous of all the chores—which basically involves managing a grimy, almost visually intolerable table—and you are forced to look the other way. There certainly is an odd juxtaposition of hush and clamor at this homespun, cluttered eatery because everybody seems to eat in silence, as though in a secret pact with the bowl under scrutiny.
And what about the soto itself? Frankly I‘m not sure. The flavors—chowhounds and locals alike tell me—are authentic and delicious. To me, the dish seems unable to decide whether it wants to be rich and full-flavored or light and even a tad diluted. The sides are just as spiritless, as is the case with the vapid potato ‘cakes’ that serve no purpose other than added texture.
That said, this restaurant gives us a glimpse of the city’s sociology like no other place does, and that alone is worth celebrating.
Opening Hours: 07.00-15.00