Brunei Darussalam is a Muslim kingdom, and thus, there are a few things to note when one travels there.
- There is no public place selling alcohol. It must be consumed in private homes. Non-Muslims can bring in 2 x 1L of spirits entering Brunei (generous duty free allowance!).
- Women should wear modest clothing, as expected in most Muslim countries.
- All restaurants, including those in hotels are closed on Fridays between 12pm to 2pm during Friday prayers. Only room service in hotels are available. I totally forgot about this, and I arrived hungry at the hotel around noon. Luckily, there was room service and I ordered Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice), which tastes very similar to Indonesian Nasi Goreng. Much influcence from the neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia can be seen in Bruneian cuisine. More on this below.
- The Bruneians really roll their “R”, especially when the word ends with “R”.
- Most of the Bruneians I had a chance to talk to seem to have a family member who is Indonesian. One example is the “tapai” lady vendor in the Kianggeh open market, whose Grandma is Indonesian. More on this below.
- Restaurants serving non-halal food must have a sign stating so at the door.
Foods I Tried in Brunei and Kianggeh Market
The most unique delicacy in Brunei that is not consumed much in other South East Asian countries is Ambuyat. This dish is made from starchy substance found inside the trunk of the “sago” palm tree. It is bland and is usually served with cacah (chilli dipping sauce) and other dishes. Every restaurant and every grandma have their own recipes of dipping sauces. My friend who lives in Bandar took me to Aminah Arif Restaurant. I tried their cacah that is mixed with durian! It was interesting. Bamboo chopsticks called “chandas” are used to roll the Ambuyat around. My friend ordered fried shrimp, beef stew, and fish soup to complete the meal. And oh ya, you are not supposed to chew the ambuyat and just swallow it. I did not listen, of course. I would be too worried I would choke.
For us, who is used to eating rice, eating Ambuyat filled us up quickly, but we also got hungry faster. As a matter fact, after driving around Bandar to show me the sights, we stopped by the Pasar Malam (Night Market) to try a few more delicacies.
The Night Market starts at around 4pm and many families buy their dinner here on the way home from work. We went there around 9pm and it was still busy. My friend took me there because she wanted to me to try grilled beef liver (hati buyah) and grilled chicken butt (tongkeng). The “hati buyah” can be grilled dry or slab with a brown barbecue sauce.
To get more immersion to the local delicacies, I decided to visit the Kianggeh Market. The market has been upgraded and renovated. It is now clean with built tiled stalls. There is no charm. The market was quiet on Saturday morning and there were few sellers and buyers. Interestingly, I only saw seafood being sold in the wet part of the market. I saw no chicken or other meat. The dried fishes, crackers, fresh vegetable, and fruits are similar to what one sees in Indonesian, Malaysia, and Singapore markets.
I stopped by one stall that sells ready-to-eat food. I tried “tapai” (fermented white rice) in leaf. This is a breakfast or snack food in Brunei. In Indonesia, we have something similar called “tape” which is made from glutinous (sticky) rice.
What I have observed and tried in Brunei did not suprise me much. In a way, it was what I expected being that Brunei is a Muslim country. And being a small country surrounded by Malaysia and being closed to Indonesia, I am not suprised that Bruneians eat similar food to Indonesian and Malaysians. My experience in Brunei is now complete.