International Cooking: Food from Brunei

Brunei is a small country in Southeast Asia. It’s on the north cost of an island called Borneo, and its nearest neighbor is Malaysia.

I struggled to find enough dishes to make this week, partly because just about every dish I came across was actually Malaysian. Thankfully, the people on the Brunei subreddit came through and gave me some great suggestions.

What Do People Eat in Brunei?

The cuisine of Brunei is extremely similar to that of nearby Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, to the point where it’s hard to find dishes that are unique to Brunei.

Fish and rice are staple foods, and chicken is common too. Beef is expensive, so it is not used as often, and since Islam is the dominant religion, you generally won’t find any pork.

Along with rice, noodles are a common accompaniment to many meals.

Dishes are often really fragrant, with common ingredients including ginger, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, turmeric, and coconut. Spicy foods are popular too.

There are a few dishes that are unique to Brunei which I did not make. One was ambuyat, which is considered the national dish. It is made of sago starch and water. It doesn’t have any flavor on its own, but it’s dipped into a spicy and sour gravy or served with other strongly flavored foods. I didn’t make this not just because I wasn’t sure I could get sago starch, but also because it sounded like the funge I made for Angola, which I didn’t like. It probably would’ve ended up being the same actually, since I was considering making it with cassava flour because I knew it would produce a similar product.

There’s also nasi katok, which is simply rice, fried chicken, and sambal. I almost made this, but the people in the Bruneian subreddit didn’t think it was worth making and I try to avoid deep frying when possible so I skipped it. Though I have to admit, it did sound delicious and I’ll probably try it one day.

What I Made

Daging Masak Kunyit (Turmeric Beef)

Daging Masak Kunyit

This is beef cooked with potatoes, turmeric, garlic, onion, lemongrass, and a little chili. My grocery store used to sell fresh turmeric, but of course now that I needed it they didn’t have it anymore. However, I was able to find it frozen at the Indian grocery store nearby, which is a good thing because I wouldn’t have felt right making turmeric beef with only ground turmeric.

There was one ingredient I omitted; the translation wasn’t working well but I think it was makrut lime leaves. I didn’t want to make a trip to an extra place for one ingredient, especially one that I didn’t think was integral to the dish, so I left them out (and if they weren’t lime leaves then it’s even less likely this was something I could have easily obtained).

I found this to be really delicious! There was just so much flavor, and it was such an easy dish to prepare that I’m sure I’ll make it again. There’s also a version made with chicken, so maybe I will try that next time. After all, I now have a bag of turmeric in my freezer!

This recipe is from a Bruneian newspaper’s website and is in Malay, but you can find it here.

Honey Garlic Chicken Pizza

Honey garlic chicken pizza

Pizza Hut Brunei claims to be the origin of this pizza, but it can apparently also be found in Canada. The subreddit was pretty split on whether I should make this at all. On the one hand, it seems to be pretty popular, and it did supposedly get developed in Brunei. On the other, it’s far removed from the more traditional Bruneian cuisine and certainly shouldn’t represent it. I decided I would include it because I was low on dishes this week, and because I was already making some more traditional meals. Besides, it sounded delicious, and didn’t require any difficult-to-find or expensive ingredients.

I used the pizza base recipe from King Arthur Flour, which I really like, except it doesn’t form a raised crust. So I’m probably still on the hunt for the ‘perfect’ pizza crust. This one tastes good though, and is sturdy enough to hold a good amount of topping.

For the pizza sauce and topping, I used a recipe from Haji Halim. The sauce is a mix of water, brown sugar, soy sauce, honey, garlic, barbecue sauce and cornstarch. I’d probably just reduce the water and omit the cornstarch if I were to make this again, since I had more sauce than needed and it shouldn’t need help thickening without all that water. It tasted good though.

The topping is cooked chicken breast, tossed in the sauce, with roasted garlic, mozzarella cheese, green onions, and sesame seeds.

I liked this pizza, though I think the sauce was a little sweet for my tastes. It’s obviously intended to be sweet though. I think this would really appeal to people who enjoy any kind of pizza with barbecue sauce (something I also usually find too sweet on pizza).

Ayam Masak Kerisik (Coconut Chicken)

Ayam Masak Kerisik

This is meant to be made with a whole chicken, cut into pieces, but I used bone-in chicken thighs instead since I was halving the recipe. I used frozen coconut because I felt that was probably closer to what the recipe wanted, as opposed to the dried stuff. This also contains onion, garlic, lemongrass, bay leaves, ginger, coriander, and a little sugar. I used ginger instead of the galangal that was called for. I could most likely have got the galangal at one of the Asian supermarkets nearby but their websites were either saying they didn’t have any, or that it was ridiculously expensive. So I didn’t try, but I’ll have a look in person one day since it will probably come up again.

I also feel like there may have been some kind of error in the recipe, because it was calling for 200 grams of coriander seeds. The little bag I had was only 35 g and even that seemed way too much for one recipe. I ended up just adding about a teaspoon of ground coriander. I can’t see in what world that many whole coriander seeds would work, and I should’ve asked again on the Brunei subreddit but I was already cooking when I realized 200 grams were being called for. It’s something I probably would have picked up on earlier if the recipe were in English.

This did turn out tasting really good. I’m not the biggest fan of coconut but I can honestly say I enjoyed this. The coconut and chicken picked up a lot of flavor from the aromatics. I served this with nasi lemak, below.

This recipe was another one from the Bruneian newspaper website and is also in Malay; you can find it here.

Nasi Lemak (Coconut Milk Rice)

Nasi Lemak

Nasi lemak is really more of a Malaysian recipe, but it’s very common in Brunei, so I decided to make it to go with the ayam masak kerisik (above).

The rice is cooked in a mix of coconut milk, water, lemongrass, ginger, and pandan leaves. I thought I’d be able to get pandan leaves at the nearby Indian grocery store but they either didn’t have them or were out of stock (that place is always kind of messy and there only ever seems to be one person working there). I realized later I could have just got some pandan water, which I know they sell, but by then I’d already started cooking. So I just left that out.

The rice isn’t usually served by itself; it’s accompanied by sambal (chili sauce), egg, cucumber, toasted peanuts, and fried anchovies. It’s common to add chicken too. I omitted the anchovies and peanuts, but will probably include them if I make this again when I get to Malaysia. The recipe I followed, from Cook Sifu, includes an anchovy sambal. It’s made with dried anchovies, but I used some olive-oil-packed anchovies instead. It turned out way spicier than I was expecting, but it went really well with the rice and egg and the cucumber was great for tempering the spice a little.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed everything I made this week, but the daging masak kunyit was probably my favorite.

Next week, I’ll be cooking food from Bulgaria.

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