Location: South Asia
Population: 459, 500
Capital: Bandar Seri Begawan
Geography: Two disconnected pieces of land on the island of Borneo, mostly covered with tropical rainforest
Signature flavours: Seafood, shrimp paste, chilli peppers, coconut, garlic, tamarind, ambulung, pandan
Sayur Lodeh: A vegetable and shrimp curry with cabbage, carrot, and green beans, spiced with ginger, garlic, chilli peppers, turmeric, and coriander.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Spicy Sautéed Broccoli: Zesty, garlicky broccoli with shallots, sambal oelek (garlic chilli paste), and sesame oil.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Tamarind Anchovies: Deep fried anchovies served with a tamarind paste dip.
Prep and cooking time: 10 min
Sambal Cacah: An aromatic dip made from durian, shrimp paste, and chilli peppers.
Prep and cooking time: 5 min
Ambuyat: A gooey paste made from ambulung — the starch of the sago palm — used as an accompaniment to dips and stews.
Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Ondeh Ondeh: Pandan-flavoured rice flour balls filled with palm sugar and rolled in shredded coconut.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min
The Shopping List
Since leaving Toronto, the blog has become much more difficult to shop for, and for Brunei, Eric had to both ask friends to bring things from the city, and shop extensively online. Regardless, this would have been a challenging shopping list anywhere. As a result, this assignment was delayed for weeks as he waited on sago starch, sambal oelek, and tamarind from the UK, and pandan paste from the US. He checked our P.O. box every day, hoping to see little packages with foreign stamps. The pandan was the last thing to arrive, having been held at the American border for two weeks. In the meantime, he ordered a second one from another retailer, which as of today is still out in the world somewhere.
Bruneians like a salty dish — anchovies, shrimp paste — and the food was at times more than we could handle, sodium-wise. Neither of us liked the tamarind anchovies or the sambal cacah. That said, the broccoli was fantastic and we both enjoyed large helpings of sayur lodeh.
This is a shout out to you Bruneian cooks who wield the magic of sago: We respect your mastery. We couldn’t make ambuyat. Eric called me into the kitchen after his first attempt failed, and we tried four more times. The process involves mixing sago starch with hot water until it curdles, then stirring it to a gooey consistency. Ours always ended up like white glue. We could make it curdle halfway, then it would thin again. Our kitchen was littered with bowls of failed ambuyat. Good ambuyat should be rather stretchy and clear, and it can then be twirled onto a pair of chopsticks and dipped into whatever sauce is at hand. Ours was only good for pouring away, unfortunately, since it was too runny to hold on to.
The stars of the table where the ondeh ondeh — perfect little mochi-like balls, bursting with palm sugar, and smelling sweetly of pandan paste. They were such a hit that we made them again together two days later, and they didn’t last long.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.