Discovering good food is arguably one of the highlights when you are exploring a new country. Treat yourself to Bruneian dishes and you will find that Brunei is indeed a food paradise. Bruneian delicacies overlap with those found in neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, drawing inspiration from Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine.
Rice and noodles are the staple food on most menus, whereas chicken, beef and seafood form the base of a variety of local dishes. Visitors looking for sweet healthy treats will enjoy seasonal tropical fruits such as papaya, rambutan and durian – also affectionately called the king of fruit, native to Southeast Asia. Brunei’s love for international cuisines is far from a secret. Asian cuisines ranging from Indian and Thai to Japanese and Korean are relatively easy to come by in Brunei. Western food, particularly Italian, is also a popular option.
Temporary food stalls are called gerai in Malay. They pop up during special occasions such as His Majesty’s birthday, Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri, offering an abundance of food choices at affordable prices. Gerai are seen as more than just an eatery, but an integral part of Brunei’s food culture and identity.
Roti john, nasi lemak and mee goreng are the most common fare found at gerai. Follow the waft of smoke and you will see freshly prepared ikan panggang (grilled fish), tongkeng ayam (grilled parson’s nose), hati buyah (grilled beef lung) and satay (grilled chicken or beef skewers) atop most barbeque pits at these stalls. Various local kueh (cakes) are available, as well as revitalising drinks like sugar cane juice, air kelapa (coconut juice), milo and air bandung (rose water).
Popular gerai in the Muara district include Tamu Selera, the Gadong Night Market, Gerai Makan Jalan Residency and Gerai Ramadhan at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium. Other eating areas are Tudung Saji, Gerai Bunga Rambai and Gerai Simpur in Kuala Belait and Tamu Muhibah Aneka Rasa in Temburong.
Kopitiam are traditional coffee shops found in Brunei. The word kopi is Malay for coffee and tiam is Hakka/Hokkien for shop. Typical breakfast items include roti kahwin kuning (kaya and butter on toast), roti mentega (butter buns) and roti kacang (peanut butter buns). Though simple, these breakfast items pack quite a punch. Roti canai, also known as murtabak, is a type of flatbread originating from India and is a must-try for its thin and crispy texture coupled with a savoury curry sauce. For a complete Bruneian breakfast experience, try a cup of teh tarik, which literally means pulled tea. Teh tarik is a hot milk tea beverage and is a popular choice among patrons.
Chop Jing Chew, one of Brunei’s oldest kopitiam and most widely recognised, is well-known for their freshly baked bread. The kopitiam was founded in 1946 by the late Han King Juan. Other popular coffee shops are the Jee Juan Coffee Café in Kuala Belait, Seria’s Universal Café, Soi Heng Coffee Shop and Wah Hing. For those after convenience, Brunei’s vast array of food courts are a great option. Jerudong Park Food Court, Kianggeh Food Court, Sumbangsih Food Court, The Mall Food Court and Little Soho are the go-to lunch and dinner spots.
Located in the heart of Gadong and set by the river, One Riverside has a wide range of restaurants with varying cuisines onsite including Iskandar Curry House, Ximply Chriz, Margherita Pizzaria, Nanyang Food Garden, Daon, Excapade and Area8. Also available are Mr Baker’s Bakeshop, Twinkle Kids Café, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Chocolate Origin and the Supa Save Café, offering popular local delights.
Located in TKO, The Copper Kitchen is everything you’ve been searching for. From scrumptious food to specialty coffee, this cafe has it all. Using only the freshest produce, The Copper Kitchen’s flavourful dishes taste best after a top-notch workout. They also have a variety of drinks crafted by their resident mixologist to quench your thirst. With every corner ready for the gram, this striking space is not to be missed.
International food and beverage chains have found relative success in Brunei over the years, including McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Jollibee and Burger King. Wayback Burgers recently made a comeback with their new and improved buffalo chicken sandwich for burger fans. Other franchises like Dairy Queen, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and Mochi Frozen Yoghurt can also be found peppered throughout the nation.
Bubble tea, also known as pearl tea, is a typically Bruneian guilty pleasure. With outlets of established brands such as Gong Cha, Ochado and Chatime on every corner, it is always a good time to grab a sweet treat and quench your thirst in this heat. Bubble tea remains popular among locals with the recent establishments of outlets such as TeaLive, LiHO, Daboba, Feng Cha and Colobaba.
Coffee chains Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Gloria Jean’s Coffee and It’s A Grind coffee house have been well received by Brunei’s coffee-loving community. A number of hipster cafes and independent brewers have sprouted up to meet the country’s growing caffeine demand, and customers are more than happy to have their caffeine boost in the morning, afternoon and even in the evening.
2019 was a successful year for Royal Brunei Catering (RBC), showing year-on-year improvements for the company.
General Manager of RBC Haji Jeff Hadiman bin Dato Paduka Haji Danial commented, “We do so many things – airline, health, retail catering as well as the commercial food and beverage (F&B) that you see in the restaurants as well. Overall, business has been growing, but it’s always contingent on our clients.”
Touching on healthcare, he said RBC has a very good relationship with hospitals and that this has been very stable and good to the company as well.
“On the commercial side, we have done good things in terms of festivals, celebrity chefs and relaunching on certain aspects. That has been successful to us as well.”
“Within RBC itself, we’ve really stabilised a lot in terms of efficiencies. We’re working closer with local farmers and procurement contracts, so we’ve done a lot of things on that side, which I’m very happy about.”
“In 2019 for the company, I can safely say that we have definitely improved year-on-year and it’s been a good year for us compared to previous years,” he affirmed.
RBC has 640 staff members. “I’m proud of the team here,” said the general manager. “We all know we are striving towards one goal and that is to help with the consolidated performance of the company.”
He highlighted that RBC is Brunei’s premier culinary food solutions company. “We are trying to bring delightful and memorable culinary experiences to all of Brunei. We’re not just a caterer. We are the face of F&B in the country.”
“People do take notice whenever we do things. We position ourselves as the leading F&B culinary entity in Brunei, and that has to trickle down to the rest of the staff. We provide things that nobody else can.”
“We are one of the few Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) compliant kitchens in Brunei, and that is an advantage we provide our clients,” he said. “We follow Halal certification very strictly and we have to set an example to the rest of the industry.”
The general manager also spoke on what’s next for RBC. “By Q3 2020, RBC will have opened its new facility – a new central kitchen facility where we centralise all our kitchens, because we have quite a few satellite kitchens, we’re going to centralise our airline kitchen, our healthcare kitchen and parts of our retail kitchen in one big facility.”
The facility will be located at the Lambak Kanan West Industrial Site. “We will be helping the country in our own certain way. We will continue providing the right kind of meals to airlines and healthcare. We want to do more contractual institutional food production.”
“We will be doubling our potential capacity in Q3 so we can produce a lot more meals. We are already doing 5,000 per day now, and we can definitely do 10,000.”
“We will open the facility in 2020, get it up and running properly and then start networking to try looking for proper strategic partnerships for 2021 and 2022,” he added. “We’ll try to expand our domestic market a little bit more but definitely in three to five years we need to go overseas; we need to bring the taste of modern Brunei overseas.”
Copyright 2019 Borneo Bulletin Yearbook 2019 All rights reserved.