Being a melting pot of cultures, Bruneian cuisine benefits from the influence of neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. This results in a unique range of flavourful delicacies, drawing inspiration from Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines.
Most meals are eaten with rice or noodles while chicken, beef and seafood form the base of various local dishes. 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.
Ambuyat is a national and traditional dish derived from the interior of sago trees. Known for its sticky texture, ambuyat is eaten with a cacah (dipping sauce) usually made of shrimp, lime juice and chilli depending on the restaurant. Locals use a utensil called candas, a v-shaped bamboo stick similar to a pair of chopsticks but adjoined together at one end. After twirling the ambuyat around the candas, the ambuyat is dipped in the cacah and can be swallowed whole without chewing.
Nasi katok, one of the nation’s favourite food, is a simple dish featuring rice, one piece of fried chicken and sambal that can range from sweet to savoury at all levels of spiciness. It is said that in the old days, people would knock (katok in Malay) on the vendor’s door to buy a pack of nasi katok, hence the name.
Also known as ayam pansuh, bamboo chicken is a traditional dish among the Iban community. Bamboo chicken is prepared by stuffing marinated chicken into bamboo poles then wedged shut with bamboo leaves and cooked over an open fire. Once cooked to perfection, the bamboo chicken is served with rice.
Roti john, nasi lemak and mee goreng are some of the local dishes commonly found at food stalls. Visitors can often find 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 also available, as well as refreshing drinks like sugar cane juice, air kelapa (coconut juice), milo and air bandung (rose water) for a quick recharge while strolling in the sun.
Typical breakfast items for Bruneians include roti kahwin kuning (kaya and butter on toast), roti mentega (butter buns) and roti kacang (peanut butter buns). Murtabak, a type of flatbread usually served with curry is another popular choice often coupled with a cup of teh tarik which is tea mixed with sweet and creamy condensed milk.
Other local delicacies include pulut panggang, made of glutinous rice usually filled with dried shrimp then grilled while wrapped in banana leaves. Penyaram is a popular choice among locals for an afternoon snack, with a soft and fluffy middle part in contrast to its crispy edges. Tapai, traditionally made with white rice, is a sweet delicate treat with a hint of sourness. Seri muka, which literally translates to ‘pretty face’, is a two-layer cake with a light green, pandan custard top and a glutinous coconut-flavoured rice base.
For those who are looking for various food items under one roof, Brunei’s vast array of food courts offer great options. Jerudong Park Food Court, Sumbangsih Mulia, The Mall Food Court and Little Soho are some of the popular lunch and dinner spots among locals.
Food stalls are called gerai in Malay and are ideal for a quick grab-and-go meal especially street food. Popular gerai in the Brunei-Muara District include Tamu Selera, the Gadong Night Market and Gerai Makan Jalan Residency. Other eating areas are Tudung Saji, Gerai Bunga Rambai and Gerai Simpur in Kuala Belait and Tamu Muhibah Aneka Rasa in Temburong District. Each offers an abundance of food choices at affordable prices. Some gerai only pop up on special occasions such as His Majesty’s birthday celebration and the whole month of Ramadhan.
Kopitiam are traditional coffee shops found in Brunei. The word kopi is Malay for coffee and tiam is Hakka/Hokkien for shop. Chop Jing Chew, one of Brunei’s oldest kopitiam and most widely recognised, is well-known for their freshly baked bread and is often packed with its loyal patrons early in the morning. Other popular coffee shops include Jee Juan Coffee Café in Kuala Belait, Seria’s Universal Café, Soi Heng Coffee Shop, Wah Hing, Piccolo Café and the Krema Coffee.
Located in the heart of Gadong and set by the river, One Riverside has a wide range of restaurants with varying cuisines onsite including Amsarra, Iskandar Curry House, Ximply Chriz, Margherita Pizzeria, Nanyang Food Garden, Daon, Excapade and Area8. Also available are Mr Baker’s Bakeshop, Twinkle Kids Café, Bloom Café, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Chocolate Origin and the Supa Save Café, offering popular local delights.
Sapphira Cake House and Ah Mit’s Delicacy Café are known for their wide variety of traditional kueh and desserts, perfect for visitors who want to enjoy bite-sized snacks in the afternoon.
Food Street brightens up the evenings at Yayasan Complex with local food and beverage vendors. Grab a bite while enjoying the sunset over the Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Mosque.
International food and beverage chains have found relative success in Brunei over the years, including McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Jollibee, Burger King, Wayback Burgers and SugarBun. Other franchises like Dairy Queen, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and Mochi Frozen Yoghurt can also be found in the country.
Bubble tea, also known as pearl tea, is a typically Bruneian guilty pleasure. With outlets of established brands such as T4, Gong Cha, Ochado and Chatime on every corner, it is always a good time to grab a sweet treat in this heat. Bubble tea remains popular among locals with the establishments of outlets such as TeaLive, LiHO, Daboba, Feng Cha, Colobaba and Yum Cha.
Coffee chains Starbucks, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Gloria Jean’s Coffee and Roasted Sip have been well received by the coffee community. The country has also seen an encouraging growth of independent coffee shops with their own specialties, bakes and grub.
Copyright 1993 Borneo Bulletin Yearbook All rights reserved.