Just on the northern coast of the Island of Borneo lies one of the lesser-known Southeast Asian countries. The Abode of Peace. A Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures. Brunei Darussalam. It is the perfect destination for “a vacation to recover from a vacation” (and for excellent eats of course!). Take 3-4 days off your week, and you’ll have seen and eaten your way through the Sultanate.
Traditional local Bruneian foods have a spicy kick to them, commonly eaten with staples such as rice and noodles. Expect to tickle your taste buds to the rich and familiar flavours of other Asian gastronomies that heavily influence Bruneian cuisine, such as Malaysian and Indonesian foods. The reason behind this is that many of the indigenous people from these three regions are related to one another. Nevertheless, here’s a quick foodies guide to Brunei for you to enjoy the best of this country.
Indulge in Traditional Foods
This was my first time trying the strange-looking Bruneian national dish called ambuyat, but damn, I hope it’s not my last! The soft, gummy sago itself doesn’t have much of a taste – it’s all about the condiments. Using a special two-pronged chopstick “fork”, you roll the sago around it, then dip the resulting ball into a super-tasty spicy, sweet, and sour sauce made from (in this case) fermented shrimps, durian, and chilli. We ordered ours with sides of fried fish and soft beef, and hunkered down to a long, delicious afternoon of eating and chatting. Seriously great!
Ambuyat is a definite must-try traditional delicacy as it is the national dish of Brunei Darussalam. This food is a starchy and bland substance that comes from within the trunk of a sago palm. Ambuyat comes together with various side dishes such as raw or cooked vegetables, grilled shrimp, fried fish, and/or a traditional-style beef stew.
Other than Ambuyat, other local delicacies that you should surely feast on are Ayam Pansuh (Bamboo Chicken), Ikan Asam Pedas (Spicy Tamarind Fish Stew), Nasi Katok (Rice & Fried Chicken served with a chilli paste), and Rendang Daging (Slow-cooked Beef). You can find these dishes in most local restaurants and food markets around Brunei.
Visit a Street Food Market
A trip to Brunei would not be complete without a stop at the most popular night market in the country. Experience the Bruneian culture while chatting with local vendors and savour the cheap, but delectable eats at Pasar Malam Gadong! Vendors start rolling in as early as 4 pm, and it’s usually at its peak around 7 pm. Work up your appetite as you waddle your way through a smoky haze of grilled foods. All you’ll need is a mere BND 5.00 in your pocket, and you’re sure to satisfy your hunger! Don’t forget to try out these popular favourites: Hati Buyah (Beef Lungs), Pulut Panggang (Beef or Prawn-stuffed Glutinous Rice), Ayam Tongkeng (Chicken Butts!), and Kuih Malaya (Malay-style pancake).
Celebrate Modernity Through a Foodie Event
If you’re travelling to Brunei between the 23rd of February and the 11th of March, you must attend the Brunei Gastronomy Week. Every year, in conjunction with Brunei’s National Day, several hotels and restaurants gather to raise awareness of traditional Bruneian cuisine in this foodie event. Chefs would improve on the overall taste and elevate the presentation of the dish to transform simple meals into a unique fine-dining experience.
Be sure to try out traditional dishes first before tackling modern renditions of it. This is so that you’ll have a better understanding of how the distinct flavours and key ingredients of a humble Bruneian dish translate into a five-star restaurant quality dish!
Get some Pork on your Fork
Eating pork is forbidden since the predominant religion practiced in Brunei is Islam. Nevertheless, if you love a succulent pork roast, then there are a still a few eateries that legally serve pork to cater for non-Muslim locals and travellers. These places are usually found in secluded shophouses away from crowded areas. To spot these eateries, look out for restaurant door signs that have been labelled as ‘non-halal.’
Furthermore, you won’t be able to buy alcohol in the country. However, you can bring in 2 bottles or 12 cans through customs every 48 hours. This is the only (legal) way to enjoy a pint or a glass of wine. Just make sure that you’re not drinking out in public places.
One Last Tip…
If you are in Brunei on a Friday, it is important to check on the opening hours of eateries. Some are open in the mornings while others do not open until after the Friday prayers. Consider having an early dine-in lunch, getting take-out before noon, or waiting until 2:30 pm for some bites.
TAKEAWAY: In 2012, the Sultan of Brunei made a call for the temporary closure of ALL businesses every Friday from 12 pm to 2 pm. This was instituted as part of the Islamic law. Its goal, to prevent and discourage Muslims who would instead hang around shopping centers during this time of obligatory prayers.
This foodies guide to Brunei is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are plenty more foodie experiences to try. Nonetheless, we hope that this jolts enough of your curiosity to add Brunei to your bucket list.
Have you travelled to Brunei before? We would love for you to share your favourite experiences and eats in the comments below!