We've walked by this place at least fifty times.
Padang is a smallish town, easily done on foot. Soto Simpang Karya sits at one corner of the roughly triangular route we trod several times a day from guesthouse to market to seaside and back again. Open morning to late at night, it's always fronted by a solid row of motorcycles, doing a steady business. When we pass the place we slow a bit, and Dave says, 'We gotta try that place.' I say, 'That must be some tasty soto.' And we keep walking.
It's hard to get excited about soto, a brothy meat dish found, in a variety of incarnations, all over Indonesia. We're in the home of the mind-boggling buffet that is nasi Padang, after all. Around every corner there's a stick or five of spicy Padang-style sate with our names on it. A noodle to end all noodles is up the street (it comes with a nice sunset view), and a magical bubur is served just around the corner - with a side of strong coffee to boot.
But this morning the oppressive heat is lightened by a breeze, and as we pass Simpang Karya it shifts direction ever so slightly, carrying the scent of soto right to our nostrils. The market can wait. It's time for breakfast.
The staff is busy, no time for chitchat. As soon as we sit, it's 'Beef or lamb?' The customer across the table answers for us: 'Daging enak.' ('The beef is great.')
And so it is. Chunks of tender, smoky beef carved off a knobby hunk. A dash of vinegar, a splodge of chili sauce, a drizzle of kecap manis. Rice vermicelli and bits of pergedel, a chewy fried cake of rice and corn that absorbs the deep meaty broth, fragrant with all those spices usually associated with Indonesia - nutmeg, cloves, cinammon - and then some, that's ladeled over all.
Served with a plate of room-temperature rice topped with crunchy rice chips and chopped cilantro, it's a brilliant mix of textures and temperatures. We splash a bit of broth on rice, then transfer a spoonful of rice to broth, then pluck out pieces of beef and beehon to eat with chips, all the while adding dribs and drabs of chili paste (which is, in Sumatran style, nothing but fresh red chilies ground with salt) and a drop or two more vinegar.
We're departing Padang in a few hours, and there'll be no chance of a repeat soto. What idiots we've been.
Before we leave Dave turns his camera on Auggie (that's how it sounds, but probably not how it's spelled), a server who's been watching us intently from a rear corner of the shop. At first he's all supercool and composed, doing his jaded Indonesian teen thing.
Then he starts to loosen up.
Finally, he finds it difficult to take us - or himself - too seriously.
Dave and his camera seem to have this effect on people.
Soto Simpang Karya, Jalan Pondok, Padang, Sumatra (Indonesia). Morning to night. No off days.