We didn't think it was possible. As confirmed noodleheads we devote a good portion of our travels to searching out local pasta specialties. We've covered a lot of ground in Southeast Asia over the years, and figured that by now we'd pretty much seen - and eaten - it all.
But there we were in Medan (north Sumatra), taking in the city's most happening-est morning market, Pasar Palapa (as well as mouthfuls of exhaust - the front section of the pasar is, literally, a street market) when we stumbled upon a new-to-us noodle: gomak.
No question but that we'd give it a try.
Gomak (pronounced goh-mah; in Indonesian a final 'k' is nearly silent) refers to the pasta itself, not to the preparation. Mie gomak ('mie' simply means 'noodle') are pale orange, thickish and square-cut. We think they're a flour, or other non-ricey starch, noodle. Cooked gomak have a good bit of heft and a hearty chew.
In front of a shophouse, near the underpass, behind the dried fish vendors, in the extra-extra-early section of Pasar Palapa a Batak lady sells gomak with curry. Hers is a stripped-down operation: a thermos of warm curry, a plastic bag of cooked noodles, a couple of condiments, plastic bowls and spoons. It's also a popular one. It was the clutch of vendors hunkered down around her patch of cement that caught our attention.
Rice noodles are also on offer here. Our fellow diners were mixing and matching, a plastic bag-protected handful of rice noodle and one of gomak. As curry gomak novices we didn't see fit to buck the trend.
The curry is red and coconuty, on the thin side but flavorful, not-too-spicy (but adequately seasoned with plenty of dry spices), and smooth, with no chunks of this, that, or the other meat or vegetable. The noodles are served alongside jars of add-as-you-like kerisik (grated, dry-fried coconut) and sambal andaliman, a zippy sauce made from a variety of prickly ash that's an essential part of the Batak culinary repertoire (opening photo). The combination is at once familiar (the Malay-ish coconut curry) and intriguingly different (prickly ash and coconut together in one bowl).
The noodles? Well worth the stop. Given our predilection towards thick, substantial noodles we could have gone all-gomak with this dish. Happily, the week ahead held further encounters with our new noodle.
Curry gomak (or rice noodle), Pasar Palapa, Jalan Yos Sudarso, Brayan District, Medan. Very early morning till sold out, 8am or so.