BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – Indonesia’s westernmost province, is famous for many things: its rhythmic fast-paced Saman dance, beautiful beaches, majestic forests, and, importantly, food. The province covers more than 22,000 square miles, so trying to track down each of Aceh’s signature cuisines could be a challenge if you don’t have lots of time to travel. But if you happen to be in Banda Aceh, the special region’s capital, here are three culinary treats you should definitely not miss.
Founded in 1967, Mie Razali is a small, two-storey restaurant that seems to be always full of tourists. Most visitors come to try its signature dish – noodles in a crab-based sauce. The thick, yellow egg noodles here are cooked in three different ways: fried, boiled or stewed, and guests can choose the level of spiciness they prefer. The boiled noodles come in a broth that really brings out the best of the crab. Mie Razali also offers steamed squid and shrimp to go along with the noodles. Lamb and beef options are also available, but with any of the choices the sauce remains true to its delightful crab flavor.
Ani Lindawati, a guest from Riau Island province, said she had never tasted anything like the noodles at Mie Razali in her hometown. “The spices in the broth tastes stronger than most crab noodles I’ve had,” she said.
To complement the main dish, add crackers, chilies, onion or cucumber. A side worth trying is roti cane, an Indian-influenced bread topped with sugar, chocolate or grated cheese. Another more savory option is martabak telur, a thick egg omelet filled with vegetables and topped with onions.
Located off a street-side of one of the busiest roads in Banda Aceh, the sounds of traffic could be a slight annoyance. Sit on the second floor for some peace and quiet.
Jl. Panglima Polem No. 83-85
Price Range: A full set for two, Rp 100,000 ($8.2)
One of the best culinary treats in Aceh is lamb or beef satay called Sate Matang. Its name comes from the region where it originated, Matang Geuleumpang Dua in Bireuen district. What makes this dish stands out is how it’s served: with peanut sauce and a plate of mutton broth that gives it a taste similar to soto, a traditional soup. Normally satay is served only with peanut sauce or soy sauce, not with broth, so this pairing may sound bizarre. But the broth works well to balance the sweetness of the satay and results in a delectable culinary experience. Another plus point: the small restaurant gives each table an extra plate of rice, a winning strategy in a country where people say a meal without rice is no meal at all.
Sate Matang Cita Rasa
Jalan Sri Ratu Safiatudin, Gampong Peunayong
Price Range: A set of satay and drinks for two, about Rp 50,000 ($4)
Banda Aceh is often referred to as a “City of 1,001 Coffee Shops.” And for good reason, with coffee shops seeming to appear on every corner. The way the Acehnese drink their coffee is also different from other parts of Indonesia. For one of the most authentic coffee experiences here, one must try sanger coffee, a blend of coffee with sweet, condensed milk. Unlike Southeast Asia’s famous pulled coffee, sanger is pulled without milk. After the coffee is poured back and forth between two large tin jars, it is filtered and poured into cups. The milk is added later. Sangar is made with three parts coffee and one part condensed milk, a 3 to 1 formula that is applied everywhere in Aceh and results in a strong coffee that is not too sweet.
Most Aceh coffee shops offer snacks to keep customers happy. Expect to find plenty of youths sitting here for hours, working on their laptops, munching on sweet martabak and working up a caffeine buzz.
3 in 1 Coffee Shop
Jl. T. P. Nyak Makam , Lampineung, (near Hermes Palace Hotel)
Price Range: A cup of coffee with sweet martabak: Rp 15,000 ($1.2)