There always exist cities that live in the imagination, long before we visit them. Medan is one of them. Every time I hear the name, one word comes to mind: transaction.
Medan is all about transaction. It is also about money, trading, buying and selling, bargaining, haggling, cheating, fraud, double-dealing, monkey business, consumerism. It is about chaos, violence, automobile culture, air pollution, the law of nature. It embodies all that make us cringe at the basest notions of politics and capitalism: backroom scheming-and-dealing, conspiracy, the politics of survival, institutionalized thuggery. There is nothing silvery or free in Medan: it is breakneck, garish and often vulgar.
Today, those attributes are still true of Medan. Yet there is another distinction that has come to the fore, and with such force: Medan as a city of great food. If a person from Medan tells you which restaurant is worth trying, or which place offers the best this or that, you’ll be ill advised to ignore it.
All great cities are schizophrenic, Victor Hugo once said. Medan is not a great city by any stretch, but if its food is anything to go by, then it is reason enough to visit.