Located at Tivoli Arcade 18, 235 – 251 Bourke Street, Melbourne, Salero Kito may not be immediately visible upon entering the arcade. Moving further down the arcade’s interior, however, one cannot help but pick up on the fragrant waft of curry hanging around the air. Following the savoury scent, you will find yourself at the front door of Salero Kito – easily recognizable by the red and white sign with an outline of Rumah Gadang as a store logo. Of course, if you miss the logo, it is hard to miss the word “SALERO KITO” printed in full uppercase on the signboard. Once you see this, you can bet your money that you are on the right spot.

Upon entering the store, you will be greeted by the rich and aromatic scent of traditional West Sumatran cooking all warm and ready for you to choose from. Even better, you will be able to see for yourself just what they have in store for the day through the glass pane right in front of you. The food is beautifully lighted and arranged on a lineup of metallic steam pans which are kept warm by the warm water below the pans. It is hard to not be tantalised by the savoury smell as you choose which menu you would like to add into your rice. There are more than ten different menus you can choose from, including silverbeet curry, balado eggplant (terong balado), crunchy vegetable fritters (bakwan), tendon curry (kari kikil) and beef rendang among many others. Once you decide though, all you need to do is to point at the dishes you want, and they will scoop it up for you and put it onto your rice plate. This way, you will eat your food with all your selected menus mixed into one flavourful culinary palate, an eating technique known in Indonesia as nasi campur or mixed rice. Worry not, despite the seemingly different combination, they all complement each other to give you a flavour that is distinctly and deliciously Padang. Of course, if you are a fan of green chili, you can ask for their own specialty green chili or cabe ijo as you pay for your meal.

But now, enough of the chitchat. Let’s get down to the food and examine how they truly taste:

Rice with balado eggplant, beef rendang, silverbeet curry and curry chicken topped with green chili

Unlike your everyday beef rendang, this one is actually drier than your usual recipe. But that should not deter you because the drier paste allows the beef to be more marinated, resulting in a stronger and a more delicious beef rendang. This delightful culinary experience also extends to the silverbeet and chicken curry. The slight crunchiness of the silverbeet complements the tender chicken meat as the curry flavour tickles your taste buds. With some green chili to top it all up, the whole dining experience truly feels like home.

Rice with jackfruit curry, fried chicken and tendon curry

The first thing you notice is the crispiness of the fried chicken. The brittle texture of the skin and the tender chicken meat melts your tongue with its rich flavour before you chew on the soft tendon. You can clearly tell that the tendon has been sitting and well simmered as the curry spice bursts from each bite you take. Coupled with the crunchiness of the jackfruit curry, they all come together to create an amazing taste of your mixed rice combination.

Rice with vegetable fritters, tendon curry and lamb brain curry

Now this is a choice you do not see every day. The succulent texture of the lamb brain goes hand in hand with the spiciness of the curry into an otherworldly taste of heaven. This local delicacy may sound slightly extreme, but one should not judge before trying it out. Fair warning though, you may like it more than you wish. The soft and chewy tendon also bursts inside your mouth with the taste of the curry spice while the crunchy vegetable fritters offer a kick of saltiness to go with the spiciness of the curry.

Behind the mouthwatering choice of cuisine and the professional service of the restaurant, of course, are the kitchen hands of Salero Kito who make all the wonderful dining experience possible. It is a privilege to be able to interview the kitchen head, Mr. Mojo Safarinur, and the restaurant chef, Mr. Benji, on how they are able to make all of the above dining experience possible.

Mr. Mojo, now a New Zealand citizen, chronicled the challenges he saw and successfully overcome during his time with Salero Kito. When he first started working in Salero Kito, he noticed that there was no uniformity on the operation system of the restaurant and set out to introduce order in the kitchen floor. With 30 years’ worth of kitchen experience and know-how, it did not take long for Mr. Mojo to establish a more systematical operation method for the staffs. He is also a firm believer that chefs should always taste their own cooking and encourage the chef to be critical of his/her own cooking. Whenever it is his turn to cook, Mr. Mojo will also taste his own recipe and ask the chef to try it as well. This way, both of them will be able to learn on how to better improve next time. He proudly said that this two-way learning has benefitted him throughout his culinary journey and that he would always keep this belief in mind.    

Mr. Benji also shares his long-term view on how he thinks the restaurant should proceed from here on. Like Mr. Mojo, he agrees that more publicity is needed for the restaurant to gain more exposure to the public. He also wishes that Salero Kito can attract more of non-Indonesian customers simultaneously so as to introduce the West Sumatran cuisine to more Melbournian. After all, being the only Padang restaurant in Melbourne CBD means that there is only one place to go when it comes to trying out West Sumatran food.

So, what are you waiting for? Time to stop thinking and start making your way over!

Texts: Edward Tanoto

Photos: Devina Krismarina