When in Indonesia, you should absolutely try everyone’s favorite Indonesian cuisine – Padang food. Padang food comes from Padang, the capital city of West Sumatra. The cuisine there is the traditional food of the Minangkabau ethnicity. Commonly known for its spicy and rich foods, which are often cooked using coconut milk, one of Padang’s most popular exports is beef rendang. Rendang is so popular in fact that in a 2011 CNN online poll – in which 35,000 people voted – it was voted best Asian street food. But Padang food isn’t only popular with tourists, and regardless of where you travel around the archipelago, you’ll always be able to find a Padang restaurant.
Padang food can be considered the Indonesian equivalent of fast food, as you’ll notice when you enter a Padang restaurant that every dish has been pre-prepared and is ready to be plated. But unlike in fast food joints where the food is frozen or prepacked, Padang food is made fresh every morning and is made from mostly organic ingredients. Despite this, too much Padang food is renowned for being bad for your health.
How can something so good be bad?
Padang food is said to raise cholesterol levels, cause cardiovascular problems and along the road induce digestive problems. One of the reasons for Padang food’s bad reputation is the heavy use of coconut milk.
As coconut milk is one of the main ingredients of Padang food, it is often the ingredient people think makes Padang food unhealthy.
Whether coconut milk is good or bad for you is still in debate, but coronary heart disease statistics actually don’t show the mortality rate to be any higher in West Sumatra than other provinces. In fact out of the provinces in Indonesia, West Sumatra’s number of deaths related to heart complications is still fairly low. In fact, West Sumatra is far below the list of top five provinces dealing with cardiovascular problems.
Padang food’s unhealthy side
Although coconuts are a nutritious source of fiber and essential vitamins and provides a number of health benefits, when transformed into coconut milk, they become high in saturated fat, which can lead to high cholesterol or weight gain. Coconut milk is also high in calories. A single cup of coconut milk can contain up to 445 calories.
Padang is also usually high in salt, which is known to contribute to heart disease. And while Padang is also renowned for its spiciness, and although chilies do have health benefits, too much can cause digestion problems. Any spicy food, especially foods containing chili peppers, may cause reflux, indigestion, and heartburn. Researchers from Yale University School of Medicine and the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico conducted a study on chili consumption, and results showed that hot chili pepper consumers had an increased risk of stomach cancer.
The good stuff
There are also some hidden health benefits that this delicious food offers us. For example, the boiled cassava or papaya leaves often served with a plate of Padang food are high in fiber, the use of the many herbs and spices in the food have beneficial properties for preventing cancer, delaying diabetes and can aid in beating depression.
Eating Padang food is probably healthier than chowing down on a Big Mac, but moderation is key, due to the excessive fats and salts. As like many things in life, too much of a good thing is never good for us.