In 1511, the Portuguese ruled Malacca and led to Arabian and Indian traders looking for a new port for them to do business. With Aceh strategically located on the northern tip of Sumatra, they decided to make it their new trading base. Most of them ended up residing in Aceh for long periods of time and formed relationships with the natives. This not only instigated a coalescence of culture, but also influenced the local cuisine as well.
Kari Kambing – or sie kameng (mutton curry) to locals – is one such Acehnese traditional dish that was the result of this amalgamation, with the texture of its gravy and the choice of meat resembling that of an Indian mutton curry. One of the most renowned joints in Aceh that specialises in the dish is Ridha Illahi.
Nestling in the centre of the city, Ridha Illahi has been around for more than a couple of decades and has twice undergone relocation. It is now based on Jalan Teuku Cik Ditiro. When I made my way there, the place was jam-packed with customers. Luckily, I could find myself a vacant table, and upon sitting down, a waitress came along and placed three dishes in front of me: Kari Kambing, Ayam Goreng Panas (Acehnese fried chicken), and a small plate with pickles and sliced mutton meat on it. Since I was there specifically for the curry, I pushed the fried chicken away.
With my bare hands, I mixed together the curry gravy with my rice. As with most mutton dishes, I expected my nostrils to be assaulted by a pungent aroma but that was not to be – a very good sign. As a culinary expert, I could deduce after one sip that the gravy was made from a number of different spices, including nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, and cumin seeds. It was really satisfying. I then moved on to have a taste of the sliced mutton meat. Topped with chilli, onion and lime juice, it was a very simple yet flavourful fare.
Whilst munching away, I couldn’t help but wonder how the locals maintain their diet. Mutton, as you may know, isn’t exactly the best food for one’s health. A quick question to my driver-cum-tour guide revealed that the trick to wash away the cholesterol is es timun (iced cucumber with sugar). He said it helps in cooling down the body. Upon hearing his wise words, I immediately ordered a glass of this cucumber-based beverage. After all, a lady must always watch her cholesterol levels.
Jl. Teuku Cik Ditiro,
Baiturrahman, Banda Aceh
Open daily from 11am-4pm
Price: Rp.50,000/US$3.70 per person