Hello Everyone and cheers to 2021! Wishing you and your families a safe, healthy, and prosperous New Year! May the upcoming year be a time for healing, recovery, and reconnection.
For the loyal followers of Amcarmen’s Kitchen, you’ll know that a new year means a new theme on the blog. And so to kick off 2021, we’ll be sharing dishes inspired by the Flavours of Southeast Asian Cuisine! If you have an Instagram account, make sure you’re following me over on @amcarmenskitchen as I will be launching a challenge related to the theme to get everyone’s creative juices flowing for the upcoming year ahead.
We’re opening the new year with a Southeast Asian country very close to my heart; a country that I was born in and raised for 26 years of my life before moving back to my motherland a few years ago. A country none other than the Abode of Peace, Negara Brunei Darussalam.
Brunei is a country located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Apart from its coastline with the South China Sea, the country is completely surrounded by the insular Malaysian state of Sarawak. It is separated into two parts by the Sarawak district of Limbang. Brunei is the only sovereign state completely on the island of Borneo; the remainder of the island’s territory is divided between the nations of Malaysia and Indonesia.
Bruneian cuisine is similar to, and heavily influenced by the cuisine of neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Additional influences from other countries such as India, China, Thailand, and Japan are also evident. As common in the region, staple dishes from Brunei are often spicy, and are eaten with either rice or noodles. Due to the predominance of the Islamic religion, the food is halal and pork is avoided. Alcohol is also banned in Brunei.
Because of the heavy influence of other cultures in Bruneian cuisine, it’s genuinely difficult to find dishes that are purely of Bruneian origin. Nevertheless, the recipe that I will be sharing today is known as the national dish of Brunei.
Ambuyat is a type of starch derived from the trunk of a sago palm and cooked as a delicacy in the country of Brunei. It is consumed with a two-pronged bamboo utensil known as chandas. Ambuyat is eaten with a variety of side dishes such as grilled prawns, fish, and an assortment of tropical sauces and vegetables. As the sago starch may be difficult to find outside of Brunei, it can be substituted with potato, tapioca, or cassava starch.
Before we dive into the recipe, there’s one more thing that I need to touch on. A popular tropical sauce dip that is always paired with Ambuyat is known as tempoyak, or in English, fermented durian. Now, if fresh durian is said to smell like putrid flesh, overripe armpits, and fermented gym socks, can you imagine what it smells like fermented? All I can say was that my kitchen was rancid. Imagine the smell of fermented durian, shrimp paste, and dried shrimp altogether…
Nevertheless, it’s actually quite tasty for those with an acquired taste for durian. I’m probably 50-50 on this, and honestly leaning more towards the hate in this love-hate relationship. I never liked durian in the first place, but for the purpose of experimenting and experiencing the flavours of Brunei, I did it for the blog!
The flavour of tempoyak varies a lot and can be mildly sweet and sour or extremely pungent and a bit rank. You can alter the flavour by allowing the durian to ferment for different lengths of time and adding different amounts of salt. Less salt makes the tempoyak more sour, while more salt both makes the tempoyak more, well, salty, and allows it to keep for 3-6 months without being refrigerated.
PREP TIME 30 MINS | COOKING TIME 10 MINS | SERVES 6
For the ambuyat
- 3 cups cassava starch*
- 2 & 1/2 cups water
For the tempoyak sauce
- 50g fermented durian (tempoyak)**
- 1 red bird’s eye chilli
- 1 tbsp dried shrimp
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
- Pinch of salt
*Preferably use sago starch if available, otherwise substitute with potato or tapioca starch.
**How you make your tempoyak is up to you. The most basic ratio to get you started is for every cup of fresh deseeded and mashed durian, add 1 tablespoon of salt. Mix well and seal in an air-tight container and keep at room temperature. It can be consumed after 2 days, or allowed to ferment for as long as 2 weeks, depending on your preference.
- Tempoyak Sauce: Add the dried shrimp to a mortar together with the red chilli and pound using the pestle until well combined. Add the shrimp paste and mix using a spoon. Season with a touch of salt, to taste.
- Pour a little bit of hot water into the mixture and then add the durian. Mix until well combined and adjust the flavours to your liking. Once done, transfer to a small bowl and set aside until ready to serve.
- Ambuyat: Combine the tapioca starch with a half cup of room temperature water, in a medium-sized heat-proof bowl, and set aside for a few minutes.
- Heat the remaining 2 cups of water, either in a kettle or on the stove. Slowly pour the hot, boiling water into the bowl with the starch while whisking continuously with a wooden spoon. The starch will appear sticky in texture. Continue to whisk the ambuyat until it is firm and starchy.
- Serve with the tempoyak sauce and various side dishes and enjoy!
The side dishes that we paired our ambuyat with are fish curry, fried fish, garlic butter prawns, sautéed kangkung (water spinach) in garlic and oyster sauce, sambal eggplant, and fresh vegetables. We decided to keep ours pescatarian, but you can serve it with other choices of meat as well, whatever tickles your fancy.
Note: Prepare all your sauces and side dishes before preparing the ambuyat.
– Ally xx