FOOD, DRINKING AND DRUGS IN BRUNEI

FOOD IN BRUNEI

Bruneian cuisine is similar to, and heavily influenced by the cuisine of neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, with additional influences from India, China, Thailand, and Japan. As is common in the region, fish and rice are staple foods, though beef is expensive and thus less common. Due to the predominance of the Islamic religion, the food is halal and pork is avoided. Alcohol is banned in Brunei. In rural areas, game animals such as wild birds, sambar deer, and barking deer are hunted. Food from many other cultures, such as Chinese and Indian, are present in Brunei. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Options for dining out in Brunei range from informal hawker centres and casual eateries to more elegant restaurants and haute cuisine. Hawker centres offer fine local delicacies at very reasonable prices and are a good place to sample some of Brunei’s local specialities. They can be found in downtown areas of all four districts, and in a complex next to Jerudong Park. In addition, food courts are located in many of the nation’s shopping complexes and offer a similar array of local foods, as well as Asian and international cuisine. [Source: Brunei Tourism]

According to expat-blog.com: “Do not come to Brunei if you do not love eating chicken or prawns or fish and curry! Do not expect food to conform to the PC ideas prevalent in the UK and Aus. Food here tastes good because they use natural substances and salt and sugar. It is not the cardboard junk dished up in the West as an excuse for healthy eating. People eat well, eat tasty food and are healthy besides. There is a restaurant of sorts in every street. Food is good and cheap, if you are willing to eat local. Prawns are one of the cheapest dishes and fresh fish in plentiful at the market. In the KB area, go to the market and ask for Dean. He is a local with a long pony tail who speaks good English. He will call you when he gets what you are looking for – I mean lobster, Barracuda, etc. He will also do boat trips and deep sea excursions. [Source: expat-blog.com ^+^]

According to 1uptravel.com: “The majority of the dishes are rich and spicy, and are eaten with rice or noodles. The hawker stalls offer pretty much the same fare, like barbequed fish, chicken wings, satay, kueh melayu and so on. Chinese food such as chicken rice, laksa, noodle dishes and seafood are available at Chinese restaurants. Thosai, tandoori bread and vegetarian fare (occasionally) can be found at many Indian restaurants. A local speciality is Ambuyat, otherwise known as 'edible glue'. This is accompanied by grilled fish, a spicy mango sauce and a selection of vegetables. Other local favourites include beef rendang, nasi lemak and puteri nanas. [Source: 1uptravel.com]

Brunei Dishes and Specialities

National specialties include 1) daging masak lada hitam (spicy beef cooked until very tender with potatoes and beans); 2) udang sambal serai bersantan (Chile prawns with coconut milk); 3) serondeng pandag (fried chicken with garlic wrapped in pandan leaves). If funds are limited there is no better way to eat excellent food than at the hawker centers in Brunei. Favourite dishes there are satay, any type noodle dish, roasted chickens, grilled fish and seafood steamboats (hot pots). Nonya recipes are those special recipes cooked by Chinese "grandmothers" who came to Brunei, Singapore and Penang, Malaysia using their old recipes with local ingredients and spices. [Source: ifood.tv]

Food in Brunei is very similar to that of its neighbors, Malaysia and Singapore. They are rich and spicy with rice and noodles being the staple food. Brunei is famous for its diverse and great food. Being a melting pot, you can have a great range of food throughout the day. You could wake up to Chinese food, followed by a scrumptious Malay food for lunch and feasting on Indian food for dinner. Dishes from Brunei are often spicy, and are commonly eaten with either rice or noodles. Beef rendang, nasi lemak and puteri nanas, are popular foods in Brunei. Among the few dishes peculiar to Brunei is ambuyat, a sticky ball of flavourless sago starch, which is wrapped around a bamboo fork and dipped into a sour fruit sauce.

Kelupis are wonderful!The glutinous sticky rice is half cooked with coconut milk. Then some salt is added for taste before the rice is strained and placed in a tray. Then, the 'daun nyirik' is used to warp the kelupis, while the 'lamba' is used to bind the packet together. Once the kelupis is wrapped, it is put in a steamer and steamed until it is fully cooked. Once this is done, the kelupis are ready to be served and eaten. One favourite is to eat them with fresh mango and sago slices.

Nipah palm fruit is delicious. The fruit of the nipah palm tree grows in large soccer-ball-size clusters. It is very popular during both Chinese New Year's and end of Ramadan. The fruit is called attapchee and is a chewy milky-white opaque seed that are often used in ice-kacang. Aice kacang is a dessert served in Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore. It is sweet-tasting and is basically ice served with sweet flavoured syrup and jelly. The word Kacang means bean and "ais" is a transliteration of the English word "ice".

Originally red beans or corn were the main addition but now ice kacang comes in bright colours, and with different fruit cocktails and dressings. Evaporated milk is drizzled over the mountain of ice. To cater to the palates of the modern customer, some stalls have even introduced novelty toppings like durian, chocolate syrup and ice cream. There are also versions that are served with just a drizzling of gula melaka (sago palm) syrup. Many South-East Asian coffee shops, hawker centres and food courts offer this dessert.

Recipes for Bruneian Dishes

Sweet Rice and Beans: Ingredients: A) 440 grams rice; B) 155 grams dried green beans; C) 4 cloves; D) 4 cardamom pods; E) 2 tablespoons salt; F) 1.2 litres milk; G) 4 tablespoons ghee; H) 2 tablespoons raisins; I) 80 grams cashew nuts; J) 250 grams brown sugar. Cooking Instructions: Dry-fry the beans until roasted. Cool, then pound lightly. In a heavy pan, combine rice, beans, cloves, cardamom, salt and milk. Cook over low heat until rice and beans are soft and the milk is absorbed. Remove pan from heat. Heat ghee and fry raisins and cashew nuts till browned. Add mixture, including hot ghee, to the rice and beans. Replace pan on low flame. Gradually add the brown sugar, stirring till dissolved. Cook till mixture thickens. Remove from heat, cool and serve! [Source: Brunei Tourism ~]

Egg Rice with Salted Fish: Ingredients: A) 500 grams rice (washed and drained); B) 3¾ cups water; C) 3 dried Chinese mushrooms (soaked overnight and chopped); D) 125 grams dried salted fish (chopped coarsely); E) 1 tablespoon ginger shreds; F) 1 stalk spring onion (chopped); G) 2 eggs; H) 4-5 tablespoons oil; I) Salt to taste (optional). Cooking Instructions: Boil rice in water, preferably in a clay pot. When almost cooked, reduce heat. Cook till most of the liquid is absorbed. Combine mushrooms, fish and ginger and spread mixture on top of the rice. Cook over very low heat till fragrant. Mix chopped spring onion with beaten egg mixture. Stir mixture into the rice, mixing well. Add salt to taste if necessary, making sure to mix well. Serve hot.

Beef Rendang: Ingredients: A) 1 kg. tender beef; B) 1½ cups coconut (grated); C) 3 turmeric leaves; D) 1 stalk serai/lemongrass; E) 2 tablespoons chilli powder; F) 1½ teaspoon salt; G) Oil for cooking. Paste ingredients (pounded into paste); A) 2 stalks serai/lemongrass; B) 3 tablespoons turmeric powder; C) 5-cm. piece lengkuas/galangal; D) 3 cloves garlic; E) 10 small onions. Cooking Instructions: Dry-fry one handful of grated coconut slowly until brown and fragrant. Pound finely and set aside. Squeeze 150ml. coconut milk from remaining coconut. Add water to coconut and extract an additional 600ml. of milk. Cut beef into small pieces. Slice turmeric leaves and serai finely. Heat cooking oil and fry paste ingredients and chilli powder till aromatic. Add beef and fry for a few minutes. Pour in second coconut milk. Add sliced turmeric leaves, serai and salt. Stir contents well and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 2-2½ hours or until meat is tender and the gravy is thick. Add first coconut milk and fried coconut. Boil. Then simmer uncovered until gravy is almost dried up. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Serve hot or cold with rice.

Fish Curry: Ingredients: A) 500 grams white fish fillets (cut into 5-cm. pieces); B) 1½ cups coconut milk; C) 1 tablespoon tamarind pulp; D) ¼ cup water; E) 2 tablespoons ghee; F) 3 onions (cut into wedges); G) 3 gloves garlic (pounded); H) 3-5 hot green peppers (pounded); I) 1 tablespoon coriander seeds; J) 2½ teaspoons cumin seeds; K) 1½ cup chicken stock. Cooking Instructions: Blend tamarind juice in ¼ cup coconut milk. Strain. Heat ghee. Add onions and pounded ingredients. Stir-fry till golden brown. Reduce heat. Add remaining spices, stock and coconut milk. Boil gently till oil separates. Bring to rapid boil. Add fish. Add tamarind mixture. Adjust taste. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring carefully. Remove and serve hot.

Prawn and Petai Sambal: Ingredients: A) 1 bunch petai/green bean (use the tender seeds inside the pods); B) 500 grams prawns (shelled, retaining tails; C) & deveined; seasoned with 1 teaspoon sugar); E) 1 tablespoon assam/tamarind paste (mixed with 3 tablespoons water); F) 1 cup water; G) ½ teaspoon salt; H) 4 tablespoons oil. Paste ingredients (pounded into paste): A) 120ml. water; B) Salt to taste; C) Dash of pepper; D) Pinch of sugar; E) 2 teaspoons cooking wine; F) Sesame oil. Cooking Instructions: Heat oil and fry pounded ingredients till fragrant. Stir in assam juice and water. Bring to a boil. Add in prawns and cook until pink, 1-2 minutes. Add in petai and stir fry till bright green. Stir in salt. Dish out and serve with rice.

Hot Fried Prawns: Ingredients: A) 625 grams large prawns (cleaned, trimmed & deveined without shelling the body); B) 4 tablespoons cooking oil; C) 2 cloves garlic (chopped); D) 2 teaspoons chopped ginger; E) 2 spring onion stalks (chopped); F) Parsley for garnish. Seasoning ingredients: A) 3 teaspoons chilli sauce; B) 2 tablespoons tomato sauce; C) ½-1 teaspoons sugar; D) Pinch of salt; E) 3 tablespoons water. Cooking Instructions: Heat 3 tablespoons oil in pan. Pan-fry prawns on both sides till colour changes. Remove prawns and leave aside. Heat remaining oil in pan. Sauté garlic, ginger and spring onion till fragrant. Add seasoning mixture and allow to simmer for 1 minute. Return prawns and stir-fry until mixture is dry. Mix in cooking wine to deglaze. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Sup Kambing: Ingredients: A) 250 grams mutton (cut into small pieces); B) 1.5 litres water; C) 2 tablespoons small onions (sliced & fried); D) 1 stalk spring onion (shredded); E) 1 stalk celery; F) 3 tablespoons cooking oil. Spices: A) 2 cloves; B) 5 cm. stick cinnamon; C) 4 cardamom pods; D) 1 cm. piece ginger (crushed); E) 3 peppercorns; F) 1 mace; G) 2 big onions (diced); H) 3 bay leaves. Seasoning ingredients: A) Salt to taste; B) 1½ teaspoons sugar; C) ½ teaspoons pepper; D) Freshly ground black pepper. Cooking Instructions: Heat cooking oil in pan. Fry spices till fragrant. Add mutton and water. Cook for about 1½ hours till meat is tender. Stir in seasoning ingredients. Dish out into individual bowls. Sprinkle with spring onion, celery and fried onions. Serve hot.

Daging Masak Lada Hitam is savoury beef curry with a jolt of chilli, garlic, onion and traditional Malay spices. Ingredients: A) 1 kilogram beef (diced); B) 150ml cooking oil; C) 1 tablespoon soy sauce; D) 50 grams tomatoes; E) 20 grams black chilli (mashed); F) 50 grams potatoes (diced); G) 50 grams of carrots (diced); H) Ingredients A (to be minced); I) 50 grams onions; J) 30 grams garlic; K) 2c halia (or ginger). Paste Ingredients (fried and pounded into a paste): A) 10 grams jintan manis (or fennel); B) 10 grams jintan putih (or cumin); C) 2 grams ketumbar (or coriander). Cooking Instructions: Pan fry the beef with the oil until done. In a separate pan, sauté Ingredients A and B until the aromas are released. Add the beef, soy sauce, tomatoes, black chilli, carrots and potatoes and stew for approximately 30 minutes until potatoes and carrots are done.

Udang Sambal Serai Bersantan is a spicy prawns dish smothered in a coconut-based red curry, with a distinctive Malay flavour: Ingredients: A) 1 kilogram tiger prawns; B) 150ml cooking oil; C) 10 pieces of garlic (minced); D) 4 onions (diced); E) 6 pieces of Serai (or lemongrass) (finely minced); F) 5 fresh red chillies; G) 15 dry chillies; H) 100ml asam jawa (or tamarind) flavoured water; I) 50ml of coconut milk; J) salt; K) Sugar. Cooking Instructions: Heat the cooking oil and fry the onion and garlic. Add the Serai and Asam Jawa flavoured water. Next, add the prawns and chillies, salt and sugar to taste. Cook for 2-3 minutes until shrimp are pink. Finally, add coconut milk and stir until thickened.

Serondeng Padang is hearty chicken dish combining the Malay staples of garlic, onion, and chillies with a touch of coconut milk and the fragrance of native pandan leaves. Ingredients: A) 1 chicken cut into eight pieces (boiled in water); B) 50 grams of halia (or ginger), cut into small pieces; C) 50 grams of garlic; D )50 grams of onions, fried in oil; E) 500ml of coconut milk; F) 50 grams of kerisik (roast ground coconut); G) 1 pandan leaf; H) salt; I) sugar. Paste ingredients: A) 150 grams onion; B) 50 grams garlic; C) 50 grams halia (or ginger); D )50 grams lengkuas (galangal); E) 50 grams dried chilli, reconstituted in warm water; F) 20 grams fresh chilli. Cooking Instructions: Boil the chicken with a bit of halia, garlic and onion until the chicken is cooked. Remove the skin, depending on preference. Heat the cooking oil in the frying pan and fry Ingredients A until the aromas are released. Add coconut milk, kerisik, pandan leaf, chicken, salt and sugar. Mixed until cooked.

Bruneian Fruits and Vegetables

Brunei’s tropical climate and year-round warm weather means that the country produces a wide spectrum of fruits and vegetables unique to Southeast Asia. Orchards and backyard gardens produce a wide range of seasonal and non-seasonal tropical fruits, and traditional production systems produce non-seasonal fruits such as bananas, papayas, pineapples, watermelons and seasonal fruits namely, durian, chempedak, tarap, rambutan, langsat, belunu, asam aur-aur and membangan to meet the domestic demand for fruits.

Nipah palm fruit is delicious. The fruit of the nipah palm tree grows in large soccer-ball-size clusters. It is very popular during both Chinese New Year's and end of Ramadan. The fruit is called attapchee and is a chewy milky-white opaque seed that are often used in ice-kacang.

Durian is famous across Asia for its unique, unmatched flavour (and characteristic smell!). It may have originated in the rainforests of Borneo. A number of rare durian species are found only in Brunei and almost nowhere else on the planet. The creamy, custard-like flesh inside has an indescribable taste that some describe as addictive!

Rambutans are plentiful in the months of July and August when fruit stalls in Brunei are filled to the brim with this unusual, colourful offering. Visitors are often apprehensive about the rambutan, with its bright crimson skin covered with short fleshy hairs, but inside lies a sweet white fruit hailed across Southeast Asia as one of the most delicious in the world. It’s apt name comes from the Malay, 'rambut' meaning hair. Inside is a narrow seed covered with semitransparent flesh which is crisp, sweet and juicy.

The langsat is known by many names in the other dialects of the Old World tropics, but around the world, langsat is the most commonly used. Originally from Malaysia, the langsat is now cultivated across Southeast Asia and is a summertime favourite. The light yellow skin is easily removed, revealing a sweet white fruit with a grape-like flavour, but without the tartness and acidity.

The long bean is one of the region’s most distinctive vegetables. It is used in a variety of dishes in many countries. The long thin edible pod of the cowpea, the long bean can reach up to 3 metres in length! It adds a crisp texture to curries and other traditional Malay dishes found in Brunei.

Alcohol in Brunei

Common drinks include coconut milk, fruit juice, tea and coffee. Alcohol is illegal for Muslim in Brunei. However non-Muslims over 18 are allowed an allowance of 2 liters of spirits/wine plus 12 beers every 48 hours. There's a wide range of duty-free shops just across the border in Malaysia to cater for the demand. However, alcohol permits must be obtained upon arrival in Brunei while going through customs. This means that most ex-pats do a “border run” every week to either Kuala Lurah (from BSB), a Bruneian border town, or to Miri in Sarawak, Malaysia (from KB).

According to expat-blog.com: “It is a great experience to go to Kuala Lurah. Once across the border, there are numerous food stalls and various liquor outlets. I suggest you try Lingi’s. Sit down and order some food. They bring you a liquor menu and you place your order. They pack it in black plastic bags and once you have had a few beers and food, you pay and leave. The crowd is great and they have music too. [Source: expat-blog.com ^+^]

“Wander around all the stalls and get a feel for the place – BEWARE, there are some dodgy looking prostitutes around too. There is a “duty free “shop too, but it seems a bit clinical and expensive (that is a relative term here). At the Miri border you can just go across to the duty free and pick up all you need. Also, you have to pay to cross the border $3 there and $3 back. Still, a litre of Smirnoff will cost you under £7, yes you read right! At Heathrow a 750 ml Smirnoff costs around £14 at the so-called duty free! Very important to have your yellow form correctly completed and authorised. It must always be where the booze is. If you are stopped or raided and you do not have your yellow form, you are on the next plane out!

Drinking and Nightlife in Brunei

According to followmeasia.com: “Brunei is a dry country: alcohol is not sold anywhere in the country and consumption of alcohol in public is prohibited by law. So that means no bars, no casinos, a few pool tables, no arcades, no night clubs, no dance floors, and very few live performances. After the introduction of prohibition in the early 1990s, all pubs, bars and nightclubs in Brunei were forced to close; however, several types of restaurants allegedly still offer illicit alcohol, sometimes served in teapots. [Source: followmeasia.com]

Many higher-end restaurants allow guests to bring in their own alcohol and corkage is not charged, though this is technically illegal and it's best to keep a low profile if you choose to drink in a public establishment. At the lower end (particularly Chinese restaurants), many restaurants supply illicit booze under euphemisms like "special tea". So if you're offered "special tea" you have been warned.

Sad as it sounds, the closest thing to a night scene are the coffee bars in Gadong near BSB (Bandar Seri Begawan - the capital, also known as Bandar). This is a focus of activity for the young. So, if you want to be hip, head for Starbucks and even though its dark wear sunglasses (everyone does) and you will fit in. The alternative is going across the border to Miri in Malaysia and hitting the bars there. You won't be alone.

It is said that despite local traditions, hidden and well isolated areas sometimes host underground nightlife - complete with music, dancing, and of course, alcohol that could give you a ride on your wild side. But these secret events are well hidden from the public, considering the Islamic way of life, and would be closed or perhaps worse if ever found.

Some do know the entrance to this dark heaven, but finding out who is a real challenge. Rumour has it that these events are invitation only, since the patrons have to make sure that whoever is coming doesn't bring the army with them. However, there have been suggestions that some hotel helpers, like bellhops, know the location of these evasive dens of pure fun - and the proper hint and a tidy tip can open the way to your heart's desire of pure unadulterated nightlife. Who will ever know ......

Drugs in Brunei

In 2014, philstar.com reported: “The number of arrests related to drug trafficking and drug abuse in Brunei has increased to almost 50 percent in 2013 compared to 2012, state broadcaster Radio Television Brunei (RTB) reported. The RTB quoted statistics issued by the Narcotics Control Bureau as reporting that the majority of drug offenders were Malay Bruneians, unemployed and those aged above 31 years. Some 679 arrests were made last year compared to 450 in 2012. Among the figure, 570 were men and the rest women. Statistics showed that the number of women detained for drug trafficking increased from 70 in 2012 to 109 in 2013. [Source: philstar.com, May 3, 2014]

“In terms of citizenship, a total of 565 locals were apprehended along with 40 permanent residents and 73 foreign nationals. Malays made up the highest number of offenders. About 594 Malays were arrested, followed by 33 Chinese and 52 people of different races. Based on the figure in 2013, the unemployed made up the highest number of arrests. Some 396 jobless people were detained, followed by 56 people working with the government, 169 people working in the private sector, 49 people who work independently, and nine school students. The Narcotics Control Bureau's statistics showed that the youngest people to be apprehended were aged below 15. Seven of them were arrested in 2013, followed by 47 youngsters aged between 16 and 20, 126 youths aged between 21 and 25, 149 people aged between 26 and 30 and the bulk 350 people aged above 31.

Two types of drugs, methalymphetamine or "syabu" and cannabis, were the most popular among drug abusers. However, there was a significant decrease in methalymphetamine-seizure. The Narcotics Control Bureau in collaboration with other local law-enforcing agencies pledged to intensify surveillance on illegal drug-trafficking in bringing down the number of drug- smuggling and other related offences in the country. The department calls on every level of the community to give their cooperation in ensuring the nation is free from illegal drugs. In a related development, the first phase of Syariah criminal law, aimed at dealing with social ills more effectively in the country, came into effect on May 1.

See Justice System

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Fortune magazine, Vanity Fair magazine, Brunei Tourism, Prime Minister's Office, Brunei Darussalam, Government of Brunei Darussalam, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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