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[GUIDE] What to do in Medan in 3 days (foodies rejoice!)

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Getaway Category: Food & DrinkGetaway Tags: Asia, Food, Foodie, indonesia, Medan, North Sumatra, and Sumatra

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  • This article contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase I will make a commission at no extra cost to you. This article was first published on June 30, 2016 and updated in February 2018.

    Located at North Sumatra, Medan was founded as a small village between two rivers (Deli and Babura) in 1590. Since then, it has grown into Indonesia’s fourth largest city with a population of over 2.2 million people, making it the country’s biggest economic hub outside of Java island.

    Medan is usually promoted as a gateway to Lake Toba and wild Sumatran jungles. What most tourists don’t know is that there’s a bustling food scene lurking inside Medan’s urban sprawls. The city is a melting pot between various ethnic groups and nowhere is this better reflected than in the savoury blend of Minangkabau, Batak, Sundanese and Chinese cuisine– food in Medan is delicious. Like Malacca and Penang, Medan is one of Southeast Asia’s greatest gastronomic getaway. Apart from the tasty delicacies, there are so many things to do in Medan. So read on to find out what to eat in Medan, where to eat in Medan and all the places to visit in Medan.




    Day 1 in Medan, Indonesia

    If you’re coming from Singapore, you can take an early morning flight and reach Kuala Namu International Airport 1.5 hours later. Then take a 40-minute train ride (see train schedule; costs around Rp. 100,000) to reach Medan’s city centre. Or take a taxi for about Rp. 130,000–150,000.

    While you’re in Indonesia, why don’t you drop by Canggu for a wellness retreat! Pamper yourself with our Bali itinerary.

    10.30am | Restoran Garuda

    Dinner at Restoran Garuda

    Dinner at Restoran Garuda. Source: Christian Razukas

    After checking-in at your hotel, start your day with a Minangkabau-styled brunch at Restoran Garuda. Minangkabau people are indigenous to West Sumatra highlands and their ethnic food is rich in coconut milk and chilli-based sauces.

    Restoran Garuda is one of the best places restaurants in Medan due to its traditional setting. Forget the menu! Staying true to traditional Minangkabau presentation style, the waiters will stack the plates in one hand and deliver all dishes to your table. Key dishes include gulai ayam (yellow curry chicken), hati ayam (chicken’s liver), gurami goreng (fried carp), jengkol (jering bean), ikan teri (anchovies), perkedel (potato croquette), ikan sambal ijo (fish in green chilli) and ayam pop (Padang fried chicken).

    Pick whatever looks most appetizing. Once you’ve finished eating, the waiter will check the plates and you’ll pay only for the meals taken. Depending on how much you eat, expect to pay around Rp. 28,000–75,000 per person.

    12pm | Tirtanadi Water Tower

    From the restaurant, walk for about 9 minutes to Sisingamangaraja street to take a short photo stop at Medan’s most recognizable landmark.

    Tirtanadi water tower Medan

    Tirtanadi water tower Medan

    Standing at 42 meters, this Dutch colonial heritage tower could be seen from every corner of the city when it was first built in 1908. More than a century old now, the tower is still actively used to provide clean water supply for the local community. It has a capacity of 1.2 million litres and it is now operated by PDAM Tirtanadi.

    12.30pm | Bolu Meranti

    Walk straight through Sisingamaraja street for about 5 minutes to Bolu Meranti.

    Bolu meranti Medan gulung spesial keju

    Bolu Meranti Medan gulung spesial keju. Source: Saksomo Herwijaya

    Bolu Meranti is a cheese roll with creamy butter goodness that has only been around since 2005 but it has become the city’s de facto food souvenir. Interestingly, its nationwide popularity is achieved through 100% word-of-mouth and 0% advertisement. One bite is all the proof you need!

    Though cheese roll is the most popular one, other flavours include mocha, cappuccino, strawberry, pineapple, peanuts, chicken floss and combinations.

    Bolu Meranti stays good for 3 days, or up to a week inside refrigerator. Depending on which flavour you choose, a box costs around Rp. 85,000–135,000.

    1pm | Istana Maimun (Maimun Palace)

    Continue towards Sisingamaraja street and make a right turn at Mesjid Raya street until you reach Maimun Palace. Entrance fee is Rp. 5,000.

    Istana Maimun

    Istana Maimun. Source: Merbabu

    The royal palace was built in 1888 at the height of Sultanate of Deli’s economic power. During the leadership of its ninth sultan, Deli became one of the world’s largest tobacco producers owing to the region’s high-quality soil and it was Dutch East Indies’ most valuable trading asset.

    Comprising a total of 30 rooms, the palace’s interior combines Malay, Islamic, Spanish, Indian and Italian styles. The main hall is the Throne Room and is dominated by the colour yellow, which denotes Malay royalty. The Middle East influence is observed from the roof’s Persian Curve, while European elements can be seen in the furniture, ornaments, doors and windows.

    You can also rent traditional Malay aristocrat dress and have your photos taken inside the palace.

    2.30pm | Masjid Raya Al Mashun (Great Mosque of Medan)

    Great Mosque Medan Indonesia

    Great Mosque Medan Indonesia. Source: Mimihitam

    A 5-minute walk away from Maimun Palace is another of Deli’s legacy. Completed in 1909, this octagonal-shaped mosque unusually mixes Moroccan-Moorish architecture with a touch of European character. The mosque also emulates Ottoman domes symbolising the vaults of heaven with four matching minarets. Do remember this is a house of prayer and wear respectable clothes. Entrance is free of charge.

    Once done with the mosque, get a rickshaw or cab to Jalan Sumatera (Sumatera street).

    4pm | Food hunting at Jalan Sumatera

    Medanese love their afternoon snacking—and you’ll know why as soon as you hit this gastronomic street. There are rows and rows of shop houses selling mouth-watering delicacies.

    Meatballs

    Bakso Daging Sapi

    Bakso Daging Sapi. Source: Christian Losari

    Bakso (meatball) is arguably Indonesia’s most popular street food. Nothing tickles the taste buds better than its springy, fluffy texture drenched in beef broth and soy sauce. Even Barack Obama remembered bakso fondly as his favourite childhood dish!

    The most popular vendor is “Bakso Aan”, which you can reach by walking straight from Sumatera street to Singa street no. 163 / 9B. A typical bowl costs around Rp. 40,000.

    Satays

    Sate Padang

    Sate Padang

    Sate Padang is another staple favourite. Unlike satays in other regions, Padang-styled satay is characterized by its yellow-coloured, turmeric-based sauce. Beyond standard chicken, beef and goat meat, you can also try innards like tongues, intestines, lungs and hearts.

    The most popular vendor is “Sate Sabar Menanti” in the intersection between Sumatra street and Kalimantan street. The satay here typically costs around Rp. 15,000 per portion.

    Kway Teow

    Kway teow ateng

    Kway teow ateng

    Kwetiau Ateng is, hands down, the best kway teow (stir-fried ricecake strips) in Medan. It comes in very generous portion and full of texture: prawn, egg, fishball, roasted pork, bean sprouts all rolled into one irresistible feast for the stomach. Kwetiau Ateng can be found at Jalan Sumatera No.66/68 and a typical portion costs around Rp. 32,000.

    Durian

    Durian

    Durian. Source: W.A. Djatmiko

    If you happen to visit around mid-year or end-year, you will come across many durian vendors while walking through Sumatera Street. Durian seedlings in this area are results of crossbreeding with the mon thong variant, so be prepared to gobble down extra thick, creamy durian flesh with a sharp flavour.

    6.30pm | Food hunting at Selat Panjang street

    As soon as evening comes, Selat Panjang transforms into a Chinese cuisine paradise. It is significant to note that Medan arguably has the highest concentration of Chinese in Indonesia. You can hear various traditional non-Mandarin dialects (especially Hokkien) spoken on daily basis by youngsters and adults alike, even more often than in Singapore!

    Noodles

    Ifu Mie

    Ifu Mie. Source: Cirsco 1492

    From Hokkien mie to Khek mie, various Chinese sub-races have contributed their own styles of noodles. Another interesting variant is ifu mie, which is stir-fried together with cap cai (mixed vegetables in oyster sauce). Most noodles cost around Rp. 20,000–35,000 per pax.

    There are several vendors selling these Chinese noodles along the street, just look out for the signs mentioning the dish names. The most popular vendor, however, is Mie Tiong Sim (located at Selat Panjang street no. 16) who specialises in making wanton noodles.

    Chicken Rice

    Nasi Ayam Selat Panjang

    Nasi Ayam Selat Panjang. Source: Melinda Tan

    Fancy some chicken rice? Hit the legendary Nasi Ayam SP No. 3 stall. Fragrant rice, freshly-roasted pork satays, pickled beans, red onion, prawn sambal—the heavenly combination will excite all sorts of senses in your tongue. It costs around Rp. 30,000–35,000.

    Martabak

    Martabak Piring Murni

    Martabak Piring Murni. Source: Josef Oei

    If you like pancakes, try its Medan variant at “Martabak Piring Murni” right at the entrance to Selat Panjang via Bogor street. The dough is cooked over hot furnace containing charcoals for a few minutes until it’s SUPER-CRISPY before it’s coated with a dab of butter, sesame and chocolate sprinkles. It comes in various flavours: chocolate, nuts, cheese or mixed. It costs around Rp. 5,000.

    Dessert

    Es Campur

    Es Campur. Source: mita1409

    For dessert, look out for the signs saying sekoteng (ice jelly with barley), es campur (mixed shaved ice with fruits, milk and syrup) or es cendol (green rice flour jelly with coconut milk and shaved ice). These are original dessert from the region and they cost around Rp. 15,000.

    Sekoteng

    Sekoteng. Source: Josef Oei


    Day 2 in Medan, Indonesia

    8am | RM Tabona

    Bee hoon curry tabona

    Bee hoon curry tabona

    There’s no better way to start the day than with Tabona’s bee hoon curry. The meat is very tender and chewy, but the secret to its smooth and unique taste is the fact that the curry is cooked in cow milk instead of coconut milk. It costs around Rp. 30,000 per plate.

    9am | Tjong A Fie Mansion

    After the breakfast, head to Tjong A Fie Mansion (around 6-minute walking; entrance fee is Rp. 35,000) to appreciate the history behind strong Chinese influence in Medan.

    Front View Tjong A Fie Mansion Medan

    Front View Tjong A Fie Mansion Medan.  Source: Pratyeka

    Tjong A Fie was a Chinese community leader who was prominent in the development of Medan infrastructure. His business empire employed more than 10,000 workers, stretching across banking, railroads and plantations. More than that, he was a key figure maintaining political relationships between Sultanate of Deli, Dutch East Indies, imperial China and the local Medan community.

    Despite his wealth, he was a humble man and this is reflected in his modest two-storey home. Inside the house, you can find out more about his life’s stories through photos and observe the harmonious adornment of Chinese, Malay, European and art deco-inspired furniture.

    11am | Hunting food at Petisah area

    From the mansion, get a rickshaw or taxi to Jalan Muara Takus simpang Teuku Cik Ditiro (Muara Takus street right at the corner of Teuku Cik Ditiro street).

    Tahu Sumedang

    Tahu sumedang

    Tahu sumedang

    Find a stall with the “Tahu Isi Ny Endang” sign (opens around 11am) to get a taste of a Sundanese delicacy called Tahu Sumedang. Tahu Sumedang is a veggie-filled deep fried tofu which is crispy on the outside with a soft, juicy texture on the inside. If you can take spicy, you should absolutely eat the tofu together with bird’s eye chilli. It’s divine!

    Tahu Sumedang costs around Rp. 2,500 for every 2 piece.

    Bika Ambon & Lapis Legit

    Kue bika ambon

    Kue bika ambon. Source: Midori

    Finally, make a stopover at Bika Ambon Zulaikha. To get there, walk straight through Teuku Cik Ditiro street, turn left at Kh. Zainul Arifin street, walk straight until you reach Gajah Mada street and turn right on Mojopahit street. The total walking time is around 10 minutes.

    Bika Ambon is Medan’s traditional specialty cake and an iconic food souvenir made from tapioca, sago flour, eggs, sugar, yeast and coconut milk. Bika Ambon is sweet-scented and you can taste the soft fibre-like consistency with each bite. It can typically last for 3 days, or up to 6 days if you put it inside refrigerator.

    You can also consider buying lapis legit (spekkoek / layered cake) from Bika Ambon Zulaikha as a food souvenir. Lapis legit was developed during the Dutch colonial era and is usually served during festivities and weddings. With dozens of layers, baking lapis legit is a masterful exercise in patience and effort. The end result, simply said, is complete foodgasm.

    1.30pm | OnDo Grill Batak

    For an exotic Batak-styled lunch, take another rickshaw or cab to OnDo at Pabrik Tenun street no. 45. The Batak tribes were indigenous minorities who lived in geographic isolation at the North Sumatera highlands. Thus, they developed their own unique dishes which incorporate a lot of andaliman citrus and unconventional meat. Depending on how much you eat, a typical lunch meal would cost around Rp. 50,000–200,000 per person.

    Saksang

    Saksang

    Saksang

    The most unique traditional food in Medan that is of Batak origin is definitely saksang, which is basically minced pork stewed in pork blood sauce. Don’t let the blood part scares you, though. It’s very well-cooked and blended with various herbs it actually tastes amazing!

    Roasted Pork

    Babi Panggang

    On Do’s specialty is Babi Panggang Karo (Karo-styled roasted pork). Unlike other establishments, the meat here is cut thin, which helps to emphasize its crispy and juicy quality. Don’t forget to ask for a plate of pork blood dipping sauce—they go really well together.

    Other Batak Specialties

    Daun Ubi Tumbuk

    Daun Ubi Tumbuk

    Other key specialties you shouldn’t miss include daun ubi tumbuk (mashed potato leaves), pora-pora (sauteed papaya and cassava leaves) and arsik ikan mas (carp with yellow sauce).

    Drinks

    For drinks, you can try martabe which is a concoction of sweet markisa (passion fruit) and sour terong Belanda (Dutch eggplant). These fruits are produced in great numbers around the highlands surrounding Medan.

    If you only have 2 days in Medan, you’ll likely need to head to the train station or take a taxi after lunch at OnDo. For those planning to stay 3 days, read on.

    4pm | Bundaran Majestik

    Bundaran Majestik is a roundabout with a notable clock tower known as Tugu Harian SIB, which is named after a local newspaper called Sinar Indonesia Baru (SIB). The tower is a silent witness to the history of students, labours and various rallies held in Medan.

    Glutinous rice in bamboo

    Glutinous rice in bamboo. Source: Emran Kassim

    After a quick photo stop, walk around the street side to find lemang, a type of glutinous rice cooked in a bamboo joint with aromatic pandan leaf. This Minangkabau snack is best eaten while it’s still warm with srikaya food spread (coconut jam). Lemang costs around Rp. 11,000–12,000.

    5.30pm | Explore historical buildings surrounding Merdeka Walk

    Medan Post Office

    Post office Medan

    Post office Medan

    Built in 1911 by Dutch architecture Snuyf, the Medan Post Office building is still fully operating today. Look out for the bird cage windows from the pre-vehicle days when locals relied on pigeons to deliver letters.

    Old Medan City Hall

    Next, walk around 5 minutes through Balaikota street then turn left at Raden Saleh Dalam street, you will notice a landmark called Grand Aston City Hall Medan.

    Medan old city hall

    Medan Old City Hall. Source: Rochelimit

    Right in front of Grand Aston City Hall is Balai Kota Lama (Old Medan City Hall) to admire the classic European-influenced architecture. Built in 1908, the building is located right at kilometre zero and was used to be major meeting point between Dutch and local officials. While it almost got destroyed during the Japanese occupation, the city hall is still standing strong today.

    PP London Sumatra

    Go back to Balaikota street and walk another 5 minutes until the intersection at Ahmad Yani VII street. You will notice a beautiful European-styled office block called PP London Sumatra.

    London Sumatra Indonesia

    London Sumatra Indonesia. Source: Bayu Aditya

    This building was completed in 1906—together with the birth of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands—by London-based rubber plantation company Harrison & Crossfield. Medan city was, and still is, surrounded by hectares of plantations producing famous commodities such as palm oil, cocoa, rubber and tea. These plantations were managed directly by PP London Sumatera here.

    7pm | Merdeka Walk

    Merdeka

    Merdeka. Source: Santika Indonesia

    At night, visit Merdeka Walk at Lapangan Merdeka (which literally means “Independence Park”). As a hip hangout place with open-air concept, Merdeka Walk really comes alive at night. The food choices here are really diverse: durian pancake, oxtail soup, tom yum, Padang satays, nasi lemak (fragrant rice), fried rice, etc. More than just a dining place, in Merdeka Walk there is a spot called Center Piece where band performances are shown. Definitely one of the most lively places to visit in Medan.

    Day 3

    8am | Soto Kesawan

    Begin your morning with a breakfast at Soto Kesawan. Soto is a traditional Indonesian broth served differently in each region. Medan soto has thicker consistency thanks to the added coconut milk, and it is usually accompanied by prawn but you can also order beef, chicken or innards. Soto Kesawan costs around Rp. 25,000.

    Soto kesawan

    Soto kesawan

    Soto Kesawan is closed on Sunday. If your Day 3 happens to be on Sunday, do Soto Kesawan on Day 2 and do RM Tabona on Day 3 instead.

    9.30am | Bihun Bebek ASIE

    Bihun Bebek Asie

    Bihun Bebek Asie. Source: Melinda Tan

    Continue your food hunting with bihun bebek (duck vermicelli), which is the local Chinese’s favourite breakfast. The shredded duck meat is really tender and sprinkled with generous amounts of fried garlic, and the soup is full of flavour! It costs around Rp. 55,000.

    11am | Tip Top

    How was Medan’s culinary life during the colonial era? Tip Top brings it all the way back to the 1934 with old-school Dutch interior. Cakes from traditional homemade recipes are baked with wood-burning stoves and have a very nostalgic taste to it. Their signature ice creams include Mexicanner, Carmen, Ystaart, Java Ice and Pukler. An ice cream costs around Rp. 13,000–18,000.

    Tip Top Ystaart

    Tip Top Ystaart

    After chillaxing at Tip Top for a couple of hours, head to the station to take the 2pm train to Kuala Namu Airport, assuming your flight is around 4pm.

    Day 3 Alternative: Maha Vihara Maitreya

    If your plane departs later, you can consider going into Cemara Asri housing complex to visit Maha Vihara Maitreya (South East Asia’s largest Buddhist temple) for some great Medan sightseeing. It’s quite a distance from the city centre (30-40 minute by cab), so you’ll have to do it right after your breakfast (choose either Soto Kesawan or Bihun Bebek Asie).

    Maha Vihara Adhi Maitreya Kwan Yin statue

    Maha Vihara Adhi Maitreya Kwan Yin statue

    Depending on how long you spend in Cemara Asri, you may still be able to indulge at Tip Top or go back directly to hotel to pack your belongings.

    Southeast Asia has a lot to offer, be sure to check out our Top 10 UNESCO sites!




    Places to stay

    All hotels are located nearby the city centre and their staff speaks English. Prices listed are based on average rates for a Standard Room.

    HotelType of accomRating on TripadvisorPrice per nightMore Photos & Availability
    Hotel KesawanBudget3S$20

    d`primahotel MedanBudget4S$35

    Hermes Palace HotelMid3,5S$45

    Hotel Santika Premiere DyandraMid4S$52

    Aryaduta MedanMid4S$60

    Grand Swiss-Belhotel MedanMid4S$60

    Hotel Deli RiverMid4,5S$60

    JW Marriott Hotel MedanHigh4,5S$87

    Affordable

    Hotel Kesawan room

    Hotel Kesawan room

    Hotel Kesawan is located right at the heart of the city and just a few steps away from Tjong A Fie Mansion, thus making it a convenient location with just around $19-23 price tag.

    Address: Jalan A. Yani / Kesawan No. 97 / 99, Medan, Indonesia

    Mid-range

    Hermes palace Hotel room

    Hermes Palace Hotel room

    Hermes Palace Hotel offers stylish rooms with amenities such as fitness centre, concierge service and shuttle service. Guests can also visit Sirocco Moonlight Bistro for an evening of live music and refreshing beverages at the hotel’s roof top. Price range: $46-62.

    Address: Jl. Pemuda no. 22, Medan 20151, Indonesia

    High-end

    JW Marriott Hotel Medan suite

    JW Marriott Hotel Medan suite

    JW Marriott Hotel Medan is the first 5-star hotel in Medan. It offers contemporary furnishings, luxurious bedding, flat-panel TVs and iPod docks. Hotel guests can access the 24-hour fitness centre and outdoor pool, as well as rejuvenate at Quan Spa. The hotel also houses three restaurants serving international buffet, Cantonese cuisine and steaks. Price range: $87-143

    Address: Jl. Putri Hijau no. 10, Medan 20111, Indonesia

    Travel to Medan

    SilkAir has flights running daily from $250 return. For two-day weekend itinerary, flights start from $530 return. If you have sufficient time, 3D2N is better at keeping the cost low. The best flight time to Medan is Friday 7-7.20pm or Saturday 7.40-8am (1hr 20mins). The best return flight time to Singapore is 8.05-11pm (1hr 15 mins).

    Garuda Indonesia has flights running daily from $180 return. The flight time to Medan is 11.15-11.45am (1hr 30mins). The return flight time to Singapore is 1.30-4pm (1hr 30mins).

    Jetstar has flights running daily from $170 return. For weekend itinerary, the flight time to Medan is Friday 8.40-9.05am or Saturday 3.15-3.40pm (1hr 25mins). The return flight time to Singapore is Sunday 10.35-1.10pm or Monday 4.20-6.55pm (1hr 35mins).

    Transportation

    Train schedule from Kualanamu International Airport to Medan, and vice versa: http://www.railink.co.id/jadwal-kereta

    The most common mode of transportation in Medan is rickshaw (known as becak locally). Price ranges from Rp. 5,000-15,000 for most places in the central region. If you take motorized rickshaw, be prepared to pay around Rp.5,000 more. You will need to haggle a lot and don’t be afraid to “walk away” if they charge too high (they’ll usually call you back and offer lower price). Rickshaw drivers don’t usually speak English, so you may need to show them maps and the Indonesian name of the places you want to go to.

    For cabs, stick only to Blue Bird Taxi (+62 61 846 1234) or Express Taxi (+62 61 455 2211). Always tell them to put the metres on, but note that there’s a minimum charge of Rp. 20,000 for Blue Bird Taxi or Rp. 25,000 for Express Taxi. You can get to almost anywhere in Medan for under Rp. 35,000. Cabs are not easily found, so it’s better to just call them. Nonetheless, the likeliest place to pick them up is in front of shopping malls.

    Another possible mode of transportation is with GO-JEK (an Indonesian variant of Uber). Currently, GO-JEK only provides motorcycles-based transportation in Medan. Their car services have yet to enter Medan, though this may likely change in the future.

    You may also rent a car from the airport or via RentalCars.com. However, there are many reckless drivers who will cut lines, drive through red lights and liberally use car horns. This can get frustrating and you need to be confident with your driving skills. Otherwise, it’s better to stick with public transport.

    Other important notes

    Time difference

    Medan is 1 hour behind Singapore

    Things to pack

    – Mosquito repellent

            – Activated charcoal, in case all the great food and spiciness does not sit well with you

    – Umbrella

    – Modest and breathable clothes

    Safety

    In recent years, snatch theft has become more common. Do not stay out too late at night and avoid empty alleys. Many thieves ride motorcycles, so try to hold your bags away from the street side. Don’t use your mobile phone when you’re walking or inside a rickshaw. Flaunting jewelleries and other valuables is definitely a bad idea.

    Helplines

    – Police: 110

    – Ambulance: 118 or 199

    – Fire brigade: 113 or 1131

    share your experience by using #singaporenbeyond on social media!

    Image attribution:

    All other images by Andrew Darwtian here and here.

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