Thursday, 4 September 2008

A First Rate Tour With an Even Better Meal Thrown In.

We never expected much from Bandar Seri Begawan. We were only there to really pass through from Sabah to Sarawak, and decided to stay for 2 nights. Everything we had read made the city seem like a mid sized Malaysian town. They were right. To make matters worse, alcohol was banned in Brunei back in 1991. We managed to smuggle in a bottle of rum, brought in the duty free island of Labuan. Although we found out later we were allowed to bring in 2 bottles, but had to declare them. 

The only thing people advised us to do was take a boat tour of the Water Villages (Kampung Ayer) on the Sungai Brunei. As we approached the banks of the river a small boat came speeding up to us with the driver waving his hands at us. We had found our guide for this short trip. Tommy was his name, a very jolly fellow who lived on the river himself. 

The tour was quite short, about 40 minutes. He showed us around one or two of the smaller villages and gave us some good explanations on the areas, pointing out all the local landmarks. 

At the end of the tour as we were passing by his house he invited us inside. We jumped at the chance at seeing inside one of these houses. To our surprise the house are extremely large. The ceilings are very high, lots of space and very airy. Air-con not needed here. 

His house was full of extended family members as his cousins' child was getting married the next day. Over the course of the day, up to 1000 people would come and visit the bride and groom. 7 houses were going to be used for the celebrations. I could imagine the feast. We were shown his cousins house which was next door. His mother-in-law was inside the kitchen cooking up a large wok of chicken curry (kari ayam). Smelt great. Tommy took us back to his house for some light refreshments of tea, juice, fresh mini ringed doughnuts and a typical desert of Brunei. Sorry forgot the name, but it is glutinous (sticky) rice cooked in coconut milk and served tightly wrapped in a banana leaf. Really really great. It was a little sweet, but the banana leaf gave it a great flavour.

After a while chit chatting, we got up to leave, when Tommy's mother-in-law came over to tell everyone lunch was ready. I guess Tommy was hungry or being a Muslim, generosity is just a way of life. We were invited to stay. Now I am never one to turn down good home cooked food, especially a curry. At least 20 people were crowded around the large dishes of rice, chicken curry, bamboo & other vegetables and grilled fish. We served ourselves a good portion of all. We were given chairs to sit on, most of the other people sat on the floor to eat. This truly was the best curry I have had since arriving in Asia. It was not spicy, which someone apologised for, but you could taste everything in it, even the cinnamon they used in the dish. Glad to see I wasn't the only one who used cinnamon in savoury dishes. It was so good we popped up to the table and helped ourselves to a second helping. They told us to, and it would have been impolite not to. 

I could have carried on eating that curry until my belly burst. So much better and different from the curries we have had in restaurants. Like they say, home cooked food is so much better. Very true. 

Brunei's national dish is Ambuyat. It is the pith of the sago tree, which is ground to a powder and mixed with water. You are served big globs of it with spicy dips to add to the bland taste. We never tried it, to be honest we never went looking for it. The description put us off. Some people we spoke to didn't like it either. 

The memory of this time will remain with us for a long. Sometimes when you least expect something to be good, it pops up and surprises you.

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