Aceh Diary: Dining out

This page in:

Food in Banda Aceh is GREAT (especially the seafood)! That is, if you can bear going to the same 5 or 6 restaurants day in and out. Many people eventually opt for their own cooking, at least for dinner, since many organizations provide a simple lunch catered or cooked on the premises. Others like us without a kitchen (which we’re renovating), tend to alternate between the few Chinese-style seafood restaurants and venues offering western cuisine frequented by the expat community. The local Acehnese and Indonesian fare is excellent too, but not for the faint of heart if you’re used to western hygiene standards, or like me have lived in parts of the region like Singapore where everything is sterilized within an inch of its existence—not a bad thing in this age of bird flu and SARS.

Most local restaurants and “warungs” (food stalls) serve very tasty food in the “Padang”-style, which means they bring a large variety of pre-cooked dishes to your table almost as soon as you sit down, billing you for whichever ones you sample; the rest are taken back, to be served to other customers. The Chinese seafood restaurants are good not only for the quality of cooking, but because the seafood is still really cheap despite the inflationary Banda Aceh economy. The most popular steak and burger joint in town has two locations, decent food, and wireless Internet, drawing in all the “Bulehs” (white people) particularly attached to their semi-cooked red meat and laptops. And don’t be too shocked if the Bintang-Zero (non-alcoholic equivalent of beer) at a few of these places not only looks like, but is the real deal even though it’s prohibited under Aceh’s shahriah (Islamic) law.

One thing I haven’t figured out yet is the prevailing propensity for people to smoke incessantly before, during, and after they eat. Maybe it adds cache to the image of the young, passionate, and embattled development worker smoking out the frustrations in their quest to single-handedly better the world; but it also seems very much embedded in the local culture. So it doesn’t take long for the small venues to become overly smoky during peak lunch and dinner hours. Sitting in such places sometimes I can subconsciously hear the wait-staff asking “And would you like some cancer with that?”

The toast of the expat-friendly eateries, however, has to be Caswell’s (a café/deli chain with locations in Bali and Jakarta), which serves REAL COFFEE i.e. espressos, lattes, cappuccinos, even cheesecake, as well as a selection of sandwiches. This has to be the mecca of all development community hangouts, where you go for informal meetings, to chill out while checking out the who’s who and the newbies in town, and to buy items like a US$10 box of Cheerios. But hey, after you’ve been here a while terms like market failure and extortionate prices hardly register when they stand between you and your Ben & Jerry’s, Twinkies, Kool-Aid (does anyone over the age of 12 actually drink that stuff?), or imported frozen turkey especially flown in for Christmas dinner in Banda Aceh.

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000