To kick off a culinary trip in Medan, start with a visit to the heritage spot Tip Top Restaurant. Established during Dutch rule in 1934, the restaurant fed administrators and plantation staff. Today, the menu offers a mix of Western and Indonesian dishes.
Next, try some casual, local fare. Mie Pangsit Akun on Wahidin Road is a local favourite for pork noodles and wonton. Meanwhile, Kari Tabona is famed for its curry vermicelli with chicken and potatoes. Chicken liver and gizzard are popular add-ons to the curry. Asan Chasio on Dr Sun Yat Sen Road serves cha siu (Chinese barbecued pork) and siobak (crispy roast pork belly), which are combined with white rice for a simple lunch. Another place for comfort food is Rumah Makan Padang Lawas. The restaurant highlights South Tapanuli and Mandailing dishes of North Sumatra, brought to the table in small portions. Its signatures are fish, curry and chicken dishes. Cahaya Baru offers Indian dishes, including biryani and curries.
For dinner and late-night snacks, take a wander around Selat Panjang, where food vendors line the streets. Finally, Asia Mega Mas is the city’s Chinatown, and it has plenty of eateries to choose from.
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Souvenir shopping in Medan means buying sweet treats. Bika Ambon Zulaikha offers bika ambon, a squishy Indonesian cake made with coconut milk. The product comes in a pandan-flavoured variant, too. The bakery has several branches in the city, but the original is on Mojopahit Road. Bolu Meranti on Kruing Road is a popular bakery for Indonesian rolled sponge cake. It comes in several styles: plain, chocolate-topped and cheese-topped. Medan Napoleon, just a few stores down from Bolu Meranti, also sells cakes but with more flavours, including red velvet, green tea, tiramisu and durian. At Mei Yen Cake Shop on Brigjen Katamso Road, customers can buy Lou Pho Piang brand pia, Chinese-influenced flat cake with pork filling. There are also black bean and mung bean versions.
Another common souvenir is local fabrics. Visit Galery Ulos Sianipar for Batak-style cloths, as well as clothing for men and women. The prices for the fabric range widely and are based on the items’ threads and motifs.
If glossy malls are more your thing, head to Sun Plaza, Medan’s largest shopping mall, which houses international fashion brands as well as a cinema. Centre Point, located in the heart of the city, is another destination for big brands and entertainment.
Drive by Tugu Guru Patimpus, a monument in the middle of a traffic roundabout that commemorates Guru Patimpus, the founder of Medan city. But to learn more about the area’s history, head to the Museum of North Sumatra.Most of its collections are artefacts from North Sumatra, and they include stone carvings, elaborately carved wooden coffins, scrolls and textiles.
Much of Medan’s culture shines in its diverse places of worship. Marvel at the halls and statues at Maha Vihara Maitreya, one of the largest Buddhist temples in Indonesia. Shri Mariamman Temple is Medan’s oldest Hindu temple, featuring Tamil-style architecture and flower ornaments on the temple ceiling.
The history of the Sultanate of Deli is an indispensable part of the city. A visit to Maimun Palace, striking with its yellow exterior, gives insight into how the sultanate is still present ceremoniously, although it no longer rules the region.
While in the town of Parapat near Lake Toba, experience Batak culture on its native land by taking a ferry to Samosir Island. Head to Tomok Village to see traditional Batak wooden houses. If you’re keen to learn about the indigenous community, TB Silalahi Center offers educational information about Batak history and culture.
Berastagi, a town about two hours from Medan, was established by Dutch colonists. In that town lies Gundaling Hill, a spot to enjoy the view of Berastagi from above. Next stop, Sipiso-piso Waterfall. Standing at 120 metres tall, it’s one of the highest waterfalls in Indonesia.
Despite its status as an active volcano, Mount Sinabung offers plenty of outdoor activities, like strawberry picking and visits to coffee plantations. If you favour tea, Bah Butong Tea Gardens in Sidamanik is a beautiful place to get to know how tea is grown.
Of course, no one visiting Medan should miss Lake Toba. The lake was created by the largest volcanic eruption in the past two million years. For a great view of the lake, spend a night at Taman Simalem Resort. Another place for outstanding vistas is Bukit Indah Simarjarunjung in Simalungun District. It’s set up with various spots such as tree houses and benches for sitting back and taking a few selfies.
Tangkahan, a small village in the middle of North Sumatra’s tropical forests, maintains its natural riverside setting and lets elephants roam wild. Seeing elephants is a highlight, as is crossing a thin, wooden bridge suspended above a river.
To see rare wildlife, visit Mount Leuser National Park. You’ll be following in the footsteps of actor and conservation activist Leonardo DiCaprio, who recently visited the UNESCO-listed park to see Sumatran orangutans. Other animals that roam these grounds include Sumatran tigers and Sumatran rhinos.
Cathay Dragon flies to Medan from Hong Kong three times a week