Commonly consumed after surgery or during periods of breastfeeding, ikan gabus (snakehead murrel) has plenty of health benefits when eaten. However, it can be quite taxing to find a supplier of the fish as breeding of ikan gabus is few and far between. Furthermore, only the most skilful of chefs are able to cook it due to its enormous size.
One of a handful of eateries that offer ikan gabus is Warung Nasi Bang Gam – a joint specialising in pre-cooked meals that was first established 25 years ago by namesake Bang Gam at a traditional market before it finally had its own restaurant building in Desa Ateuk Mon Panah seven years ago.
Situated in the middle of a paddy field lends the place a unique ambience, and despite its distance from the city centre, it still welcomes sizeable crowds day in, day out.
Our driver-cum-tour guide had warned us that Bang Gam’s ikan gabus sells like hotcakes, so we scheduled our visit before lunchtime to avoid disappointment. It proved to be a wise decision as regardless of our early arrival, the place – with a maximum capacity of about a hundred people – was already filled to the brim with customers.
Once we got ourselves a table, a waitress swung by and placed a number of dishes on it. Besides the obligatory Gulai Ikan Gabus (snakehead murrel curry), we were also served Ayam Goreng Panas (deep-fried chicken) and Gulai Bebek (duck curry). As I was ordering a glass of es timun (iced cucumber with sugar), I noticed a familiar face from the corner of my eye – it was Bang Gam himself, still getting his hands dirty in his restaurant despite his old age.
Now, the good news was that the food were just brilliant. The Gulai Ikan Gabus uses asam kandis (a type of sour spices), tamarind and coconut milk for its gravy, lending a refreshingly sour taste to the dish. Although the Ayam Goreng Panas was cooked with ayam kampung (free-range chicken), its meat was tender. The gravy of the Gulai Bebek was slightly denser than that of the Gulai Ikan Gabus, which reminded me of a serving of mutton curry that I ate at another joint in the city.
The bad news? The heavy meal, coupled with the breezy surroundings, made me feel languorous – I had to force myself to stay awake afterwards to continue my culinary tour. Otherwise, it was hands down one of the best dining experiences that I had in Aceh.
Jl. Kaye Leu, Simpang Tiga,
T: 0852 7780 2441
Open daily from 11am-4pm
Price: Rp.30,000/US$2.20 per person