Every country has their own representative foods that help portray their own national identity. As food is a big part of culture and tradition, it gives us a peek on the history and culture that revolve around the food itself. The Kingdom of Brunei Darussalam is not an exception as they also have their own representative food. The Kingdom proudly introduced their own traditional delicacy namely Ambuyat as an iconic food to the world.
So what is an ambuyat? People may ask. Ambuyat may sound uncommon to non-Brunei residents. Ambuyat is actually made from sago. If you don’t know what sago is, in simpler terms, it is white solids derived from the trunk of Rumbia Tree. Believe it or not, there is a local term for sago. It is called an Ambulung.
How to make an ambuyat? Ambuyat is actually easy to make. The only things to prepare are sago and water. First, pour some warm water into a bowl of ambulung and stir it. Then pour hot water into the mix and keep stirring until the texture becomes very sticky. It may sound easy but you need to know the local secret in making this. Otherwise, you might fail to get a perfect ambuyat. The locals said that in the process of stirring, you have to put your mind in ease and put away all the thoughts, or else the ambulung might not turn out well. They said “if you stir with doubts, it will definitely spoil the process”. In Bruneian slang, they called it “Inda usah berkata-kata” or in English “Don’t whisper your doubts”.
Ambuyat is actually served with a cacah (ambuyat’s dip) and various side dishes such as ulam-ulaman (raw vegetables), fish, prawn or meat according to your likings. Why is this? It is because the tasteless taste of an ambuyat. That’s why Bruneian dips it with cacah and compliments it with the other taste of various side dishes. The recommendation for those who will try Ambuyat for the first time is that they have to eat it with a good cacah or they will hate ambuyat forever. So what is cacah made from? Cacah is actually made from the combination of chilli, lime, garlic, red onion and Tempoyak (made from Durian). Some cacah are made from a local fruit called Binjai instead of using Tempoyak. Since ambuyat is tasteless, it all depended on the right dip!
The taste of Cacah is actually sour and spicy. And as you keep eating it, the combination of sourness and spiciness will definitely awaken your taste bud. The tanginess of a cacah will leave you speechless. You will not be able to find such taste in other countries besides in the Kingdom of Brunei Darussalam. Once you get used to it, it will make you addicted and keep wanting for more.
It is also fun to eat an ambuyat. The locals uses a V-shaped bamboo stick called candas. In order to describe it more clearly, it looks like a normal chopstick with one end joining to each other. It is fun because the diner will twirl the glue-like ambuyat with a candas and dip it to the cacah. The unique thing about eating an ambuyat is that you can eat without chewing it! It is normal to just swallow the ambuyat.
Ambuyat also shows some insights on the traditional culture of Brunei. As you can see on the pictures, ambuyat is set up with a lot of side dishes along with a main dish. The main dish is served in a big bowl rather than separating it to smaller bowls for each diner. It is also equipped with a number of eating utensil candas that are usually placed near the main dish. This suggests that Brunei culture teaches the culture of sharing and the art of communicating through the mean of food. It is also suggested that Bruneians usually eat in groups and always gather around to dine due to this culinary culture. That’s why probably in Brunei, it is hard to see Bruneian eating alone in public.
To end this article, I will teach some unexpected culture of Brunei revolving around ambuyat. The locals usually will not mention the word ambuyat in public as fear of making other people crave for it. So instead of saying it, they used a hand signs similar to what we use in indicating a scissor. Till next time!
By Mohamad Akmal Fauzan ABU BAKAR, ASEAN Correspondent from Brunei Darussalam