I think I’ve mentioned before that the food here is pretty good. We love char kueh teaw and mee goreng and nasi ayam. There are some great Thai and Chinese and Indian places too. But it’s mostly Malaysian food. None of the food is really uniquely Bruneian. So when we heard of ambuyat, which is a sago based side dish only found in Brunei, we knew it had to be one of our challenges.
And when we were traveling up to the capital last weekend for a bit of shopping, we thought it would be a great opportunity to try the best ambuyat Brunei has to offer. After a quick Google search, it looked like a chain called Aminah Arif was the place to go, and there was a branch right near our planned shopping area. Our decision was made.
Ambuyat is made from the interior trunk of the sago palm. It is boiled in water, and somehow transforms into a kind of paste. This paste is eaten with a bamboo implement that is a bit like a pair of chopsticks attached at the top. The ambuyat is twirled around, dipped in sauce, and swallowed without chewing.
When we arrived at Aminah Arif, the first challenge was the menu, which was entirely in Malay. My menu-Malay is getting pretty good, but the language of ambuyat was unfamiliar. We were glad to have a very helpful waitress. With her assistance, we got an ambuyat set, with dry beef, steamed fish, cabbage, and sauce. We weren’t sure on the flavour of the sauce, but we know it wasn’t durian, which is a definite win.
The food arrived, and another helpful waiter showed us the ambuyat eating technique. And all that was left was to dig in.
When we first tried the ambuyat, we were quite impressed. The sauce was tangy and the texture was not as bad as expected. But as it cooled down, it got worse and worse. The tangy sauce had a sicky sweet flavour and, combined with a quickly solidifying paste, our gag reflexes started making themselves known. It got harder and harder to swallow until we just gave up.
The side dishes weren’t much better. Extremely fatty beef, fishy fish, and cabbage soaked in MSG sauce were not exactly our ideal lunch. We made a solid effort, but eventually we snuck out of the restaurant, leaving about half our food uneaten. (We paid first, of course.)
Overall, we are glad that we tried this uniquely Bruneian and interesting dish. But I doubt we’ll be trying it again without a good reason. Bland side dishes certainly have their place, but it would take something pretty good to beat rice. And ambuyat really wasn’t that good.