The Come Back Post: Da’un Kelemek

Hi, everyone! 

I’ve been pleasantly surprised that despite my hibernation over the last few months (a year and a half in fact), this foodblog has been getting upwards of 250 hits per day… and mainly from the USA, for some unfathomable reason.  Could it have been the “explosive tempoyak” post that might have garnered some American interest – perhaps out of a misguided belief that it could be about “biological” WMD in the making? Perhaps. Or not. I don’t know.

I must thank a certain friend, Jeremy, who has motivated –  no, challenged me – to post something before midnight tonight (12th August 2014).  Truth be told, I have logged-in occasionally over the last few months, drafted something, only to lose interest halfway…  

Essentially my last post was in December 2012.  In January 2013, I unexpectedly lost my dear mum.  She had been my main reference for local Bruneian and Tutong food items that I blogged about – sort of a “mummypedia” of food.  Regular readers will know how she became my fountain of knowledge, and occasionally my “lab rat” for odd finds in the local tamu or any other market.  The look on her face when I presented her with a plate of disgusting-looking snails – as I stared daggers at her into reluctantly putting one into her mouth – awaiting her verdict on its edibility – or indeed, its toxicity.  (Although in hindsight, she might have spat it out sideways in the millisecond that I probably blinked. I can’t be sure).  

She was after all the person who forced me to create my own food: “Kalau kan mian kek coklet, ngumu’ dai ju’ sendiri”. (In Anglo-saxon: “If you want chocolate cake, you go make it yourself.”).  Bear in mind this was in a sleepy Kampung in Tutong in the 80s. In all honesty, mum herself had probably never had Chocolate cake!  I hope this episode doesn’t misrepresent her as a mum who was malevolent or uncaring of her superincumbent boy with an achingly sweet tooth.  On the contrary, it was her way of teaching me to be independent, ambitious, creative and experimental from such an early age. And Chocolate cake I did indeed make! And so began my love affair with food. (that can really be interpreted at so many levels. *sigh*).  So as you can imagine, losing your mum can knock the wind out of your sails. I didn’t exactly go into a depression; rather, all your priorities in life suddenly become… re-ordered. And blogging, and maintaining an online presence suddenly became secondary, or peripheral even. A real presence with family in real time became primary. Hence, the hiatus. 

But Jeremy’s challenge, the modest number of hits, and the numerous emails I’ve received directly have got me thinking… Am I going to waste all this support from everyone?  No, that would be rather disingenuous of me.

So, in tribute to my mum,  I’m back tonight with perhaps one of the last things she educated me on: the Kelemek leaf.  I can’t remember all the details, but I’m sure she told me it came from the… Kelemek tree.

In this instance, the Da’un Kelemek was used as a wrap for the fermented rice Tapai.  

Tapai in Kelemek leaf

Tapai in Kelemek leaf

In photo above, the Tapai in Kelemek leaf in the centre is put side by side with Tapai in Jengeng or Simpur leaf.  Simpur is more commonly used in Tutong, whereas in Bandar area, Tapai is usually wrapped in the yellow Apong leaf. Occasionally we wrap Tapai in Da’un Upa’ (Daun Keladi, in Malay; Yam leaf, in English).  But this was the first time I came across the Kelemek leaf being used as a tapai wrap. And mum seemed rather pleased at passing on this gem of information to me. 

Tapai in Da'un Jengang

Tapai in Da’un Jengang

Those unfamiliar with my humour might find it irreverent to speak buoyantly of my mum’s passing – in the same breath as the Tapai, no less. But I write for love. For a strong woman whose love and knowledge of food were both inspiring, I think this post is rather a fitting celebration of all things she embodied.  I take comfort in the knowledge that she passed being surrounded by her beloved cats- rather than being eaten by them.  But I take greater comfort in that she left in me a legacy of love and pride of food, which I hope to share with others.   I hope this will be the first of many more posts. Thanks, Jeremy.  I’ve got nine minutes left before midnight🙂


Lada Pirek

How do you like your Kembayau?

In Bandar area they usually have theirs with a bit of sugar.

In Tutong we prefer it salty and savoury.

But some time last year someone asked if we can goreng Kembayau, jadi tumis.

I thought, well, why not?

But continuing on the ‘hot and spicy’ theme I thought I’d share with you a rather peculiar way I have my Kembayau.

Get some Bird’s eye chili (Lada padi) and spoonful of salt, a few drops of water and “pirek” (squish) away… et voila, and instant dip that gives you an instant hot hit and instant satisfaction.

Hot, Hot, Hot..!!!

Hot, Hot, Hot..!!!

Try at your peril!


“Mole” as in “guacamole” (avocado sauce), not “mole” as in “taie lalat”.

I’ve a few friends who inexplicably have never tried Kembayau.

In my effort to propagate the goodness of Kembayau (Canarium odontophyllum) I always tell these misfits that they taste similar to avocado – creamy, lamak, and just simply beautiful.

So today I walked into the kitchen and saw a couple of leftover kembayau on the table. And feeling suitably peckish, I also began to feel dangerously creative.

Now, if indeed Kembayau is like Avocado, then an equivalent of guacamole should be possible with the stripey ones. So I came up with this.

Here’s what you need:

The ingredients

The ingredients: Chilli, garlic, tomato, limau kapas lime, salt. I would have used some Corriander but I didn’t have any at the time

And here’s what you do:

Get the flesh of the Kembayau by squishing using thumb and fingers until the seed slides out.

Get the flesh of the Kembayau by squishing using thumb and fingers until the seed slides out.

You'll end up with this. I only had about 11 biji kembayau that were leftover, and they were a bit oxidised already, hence brownish in colour.

You’ll end up with this. I only had about 11 biji kembayau that were leftover, and they were a bit oxidised already, hence brownish in colour.

Chuck in the chopped tomato, chilli, garlic, onion and lime juice.

Chuck in the chopped tomato, chilli, garlic, onion and lime juice.

Use a wooden pestle (or any kind) to squash the ingredients.

Use a wooden pestle (or any kind) to squash the ingredients.

Et voila! Kembayau-mole.

Et voila! Kembayau-mole.

Have it with rice and veg, and Durian- why not?

Have it with rice and veg, and Durian- why not?

Now, I do realise that guacamole should be used as a dip. It goes without saying that the Kembayau-mole looks slightly less appealing visually than the emerald guacamole. But ocassionally guacamole reminds me of a pureed Shrek, so I’m not too sure that’s an appetising thought either. The black skin of the Kembayau lends to a purplish hue in the final product. Perhaps you could remove the entire skin if you wanted to avoid the purple tinge; I’m not too bothered, personally. Thoough I would have liked some Corriander in this mix, except I didn’t have any at hand at the time.

But our cook made her own “tumis” version later on, which was nice too, but that then makes it technically a Sambal.

But I say: Be adventurous!
Give it a go!

The Dungeon

So I come home from my travels late one night. Straight off a plane, and right into the kitchen. As I washed my hands at the kitchen sink, a stench crept up. I turned around expecting to see grandma behind me, but no, it wasn’t her letting one out again. But this smell was annoyingly too familiar. So I followed my nose and found myself di belakang rumah. Unfamiliar territory. But I saw this locked door, and I got curious. I’d never entered this part of the house.

Pintu Misteri

Pintu Misteri

I tried menyubuk through the chicken wire.

Apakah seperti yang kufikirkan??

Apakah seperti yang kufikirkan??

Sekali dibuka pintu ani, laaahhh….. It’s durian dungeon rupanya!

photo 33

I couldn’t believe it! No, not the fact that the place was full of durian, but rather that I did not know there was this secret hideout all this while!!

They used to keep durian and other fruit in the cabinet under the sink, and I’d walk into the kitchen late at night and plunder them.

But I guess this much durian would just make the kitchen smell like a hundred gaseous grandmothers. So, baik jua ada tampat menaruh di luar ani. You could create a mess, and leave it there, and keep the kitchen and whole house stench-free. Unless of course some members of my family are members of a secret cult who torture people through creative use of the thorny fruit. It does make me wonder sometimes.

Membuka durian - not my forte!

Membuka durian – not my forte!

Mess. Not by me.

Mess. Not by me.

So thorny and prickly and pungently smelly stuff may not be the usual kind of reception you’d expect when you get home from your time away. But tonight’s welcome was one exception I was more than happy to make.

My Nasi Katok Theory

I have a theory… (yes, yes, I hear your collective groans.)

And it’s a theory that might end up just as famous and as controversial as the Higgs Boson, believe you me! (I always tend to say “Higgins Bottom” for some odd reason).

Tapi theory ani pasal Nasi Katok $1.

I’ll start with a simple hypothesis: The nyaman-ness of the Nasi Katok is dependent upon it being wrapped (bebungkus) and how long it rests.

Nasi Katok has three general components: the steaming hot white rice; the sambal; the meat (ayam goreng or daging, or even both). The more generous vendors will give you some pusu or even some egg as condiments (I’ve had a quarter of a boiled egg, half an egg, as well as a slice of talur dadar yang the most nipis in the world). And on even rarer occasions, you’ll get a slice of timun (I am a fan of the wilted timun sometimes; I didn’t get called “Si Kubis” in hostel for nothing. I actually loved the slimy cabbage that was served on almost a daily basis).

A few other factors are significant here as prerequisite: the heat of the steamed rice; the complementariness of the sambal and the ayam or the daging.

The latter will have to be nyaman in the first place. Many a times I’ve heard people say, “Inda nyaman sambalnya ihh…” or “Inda berapa nyaman dagingnya ah…” leading them to conclude that particular Nasi Katok inda nyaman, and condemning it to oblivion, and the vendor to lingkupness.

The sambal has to have the right balance of sweetness, saltiness, tanginess, and even padas-ness, even if your preference is Sambal Biasa. It should also be of thick consistency, not runny.

The ayam, which is the most commonly used meat compared to daging, should be fried with an extra hint of saltiness. Usually the chicken is simply turmeric-coated ayam goreng biasa, but several places use ayam bekuah (not my personal choice). And more often than not, the chicken is fried sampai karas. But you’d be surprised that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I’ll show later. But absolutely something to avoid is coating the chicken with flour or breadcrumbs – again, this will become clearer later.

But the most important factor, I believe, is that the rice MUST be steaming hot. This is because the steam from the compacted rice will continue to “cook” the ayam goreng yang karas atu (tenderizing it at once), and the softness of the rice makes it act like a sponge that drinks up the sambal. The salty turmeric coating will infuse into the rice as well because of the steam. So, if you can imagine all these in a compact wrap (bebungkus), the steam from the rice then tenderises the hard-fried chicken, and infusing its flavour and the sambal into the rice, as shown below.

So, that thing about not using flour or breadcrumbs with the chicken should now make sense– all that coating will just turn soggy in the steaming process – it’ll be like eating a wet sock, not a nice experience altogether.

BUT it’s not just the steaming; it’s also HOW LONG it occurs. The whole packet must be left to rest for some time, I would say between 7-10 minutes or so would be optimal. You might argue steaming cannot possibly accelerate when resting as the packet of rice would slowly lose its heat – point taken – which is why the precondition was set earlier for the rice to be steaming hot. And 7-10 minutes is a plausible period after which the packet of rice can be said to be “getting cold”. Now, I know Bruneians are foreign to the idea of “resting” cooked food (“jangan lalai”), but if you think about it, most Nasi Katok are bought as tapau or take-aways. Jarang urang kan makan on the spot. That period of travel from the stall to your destination should give it enough time to rest and infuse. And THAT is when it’s best to devour. Have you noticed that dine-in plated version of Nasi Katok almost always tastes “kurang sikit” – to my mind, it’s that crucial compact-steaming that’s missing here. Ia tah kurang rasanya tu.

So, now that I’ve got you at the edge of your seats salivating for more enlightenment, lemme explain this to you in more pseudo-scientific terms. The rice is the God particle, the Boson of the Standard Model.

The steam is the Higgs field that “binds” or “pulls” everything together.
But what the Boson Higgs theorem doesn’t explain, albeit via this vague (dubious?) parallel, is how the rice itself (the God particle) is enmeshed as it also gets inflated and softened, absorbing all the fantastic tastes, thus making it even more palatable.

The whole Nasi Katok packet then, is the Universe. And when everything falls into place, this “universe” becomes perfect – or “nyaman”.

I failed Art in Form 3… What was so wrong about a walking pineapple in answer to a “Lukiskan suasana kampung”..??

I suppose a simpler analogy would be of the Nasi Katok packet as a Pressure cooker, cooking from the latent heat of the hot rice rather than an external source.

Nyaman-ness (Ny) equals Nasi panas (N) + Daging (Chicken/beef) + Sambal (Sa) over Steam (St), multiplied by Time (T). MAYBE! (I also “achieved” Ungraded in O-Level Maths, so bewarned!).

A perfectly-rested Nasi Katok.

Of course, I’ve had Nasi Katok on the spot, and to me they’ve always fallen short of expectations, of that most fulfilling experience, that “oomph”.

Now, I know this may not be the most scientifically sound paper, but I’m quite confident my hypothesis is correct. Higgs Boson took 40 years to prove. I have time.

Either way, now, I’ll just sit back and wait for that Nobel prize as I sip on my cat poo Vietnamese coffee. So, whenever you’re ready… You’re welcome, world.

Sahur: Bubur Pulut Durian

Actually, I’m not even sure that’s what this thing’s called. Yes, I’m a shit blogger who can’t be bothered to establish such basic facts. But when you’ve been without sleep with a throbbing headache, it’s the last thing you’d think of doing at 4.30 am.

Anyway, this was what I had for sahur this morning, Day 16 of Ramadan, to last help me survive today’s fast. I don’t normally eat much during sahur, it’s the water and fluids that I really care for, rather than food.

But I succumbed to this silky porridge of glutinous rice with durian this morning. A very simple dish, simple is good. But of course I had to top it off with extra fresh durian. Would be rude not to.

Selamat berpuasa!

Pau si Assim

A few friends have been raving about this steamed Pau at this “Restoran si Assim” in Tutong Town. I don’t know the restaurant’s proper name. In fact I don’t even have the slightest clue who “Si Assim” is. So I simply call the restaurant “Promart” cos that’s the big shop right next to it. You see, my mates have been having their late breakfasts there while I’ve been in Bandar most of the time, especially during that time of the day.
And they just wouldn’t stop yakking about the pau, nyaman berabis apparently. The first time I went to try the Pau, it had sold out. Apparently it’s so laku. But ngam tekana cuti recently, I finally managed to try it.

And my mates weren’t wrong. It was really good. Normally sweet Paus have one type of filling only, usually Kacang hitam, Kacang, or Kaya. But this is the first Pau I’ve had with Kacang hitam and Kacang together.

And the result is a delicious ooze of red bean paste with the contrasting crunchy bites. Really nice while it’s hot. And whilst there, inquisitive little David will entertain you with his collection of Ultraman and action figures. Just make sure he doesn’t dip them in your tea while you’re not looking… or even while you are.

Anyway, if you’re interested, the restaurant is by Promart, across from Tutong Chung Hwa school, masuk arah simpang dapan Balai Polis Tutong. But be prepared to be disappointed (as I have been a few times) – the paus are that popular.

Madwomen & Walnuts: Lakau-Lakau KB

Three months ago that madwoman Maurina raved on Instagram about a wonderful Chinese dessert in KB. She said it was Walnut puree, and I was fascinated. I was equally enthralled by her story about being a pole-dancer in Baclaran. Maurina’s borderline-illegal moonlighting aside, I decided that I must one day drive down to KB and try the dessert. The opportunity came only a few weeks ago on my final day off work. You see, when I say I want a particular something, food especially, I will get it, sooner or later. Unfortunately this one took 3 months and some; though I have waited longer. (I have been looking for Smarties for the past 3 months. And you say I’m impatient! tsk!)

So, determined, I drove all the way down to KB on the pretext of meeting up an old friend to pass some old computer stuff yang batah bejaruk. Now, there must be something in the KB water cos all the people I contacted to meet up all suggested the KB Kuey Tiaw at Tudung Saji. I have said before that I was not a big fan of Kuey Tiaw (broad noodles or pasta) but since I was a “guest” in town, I gave in, somewhat.

The Famous Kolo Mee KB

Tapi I had Kolomee Ayam, which was good, while Izzat and Hirman (you guessed it, KB residents) had Kuey Tiaw.

I tried some of theirs and took their word for it, but what was interesting, and a first for me, was Izzat’s Kuey Tiaw Urat.

Kuey Tiaw Urat

Now, I’ve never quite figured out exactly which part of the animal the urat is – maybe ignorance is bliss- but this combination with the noodle was just “interesting” to me. And by the looks of it Izzat quite enjoyed his food. I, on the other hand, didn’t finish my Kolo mee. It was OK, but I was leaving space for the thing I came down to KB for.

So we quickly made our way to the restaurant which happened to be just next door to Tudung Saji, and I thought it was a rather nice little boutique, very nicely-appointed.

Quickly flipping through the menu, we ordered the cold Walnut and the Almond dessert, with hot and cold Rose tea with honey.

The rather literally-named “Walnut Dessert”

… and its equally uncreatively-named cousin “Almond Dessert”.

The Walnut dessert was actually quite nice, as Maurina had remarked. To me it was just the right sweetness and very silky. But sorry, I probably would have liked a bit of crunch in there somewhere from chopped walnut, just to give it a bit of a texture. But I don’t think it tasted like “lipas” at all, as suggested by one of Maurina’s colourful friends. Two things: How does she know what cockroaches taste like? Secondly, lipas do not taste nutty, but just slightly hapak. I once found half a coackroach in my bag of Chickadees. It appeared freshly bit into. Anyway, this Walnut dessert tasted nutty, earthy even, and reminded me of the famous French love-it-or-hate-it “Bonne Maman”, the Chestnut spread, just kurang manis. I happen to love it, so unsurprisingly I liked the Walnut dessert.

The Almond puree that Izzat ordered was actually quite nice too, although the sweet almond flavour reminded me of Ubat Batuk Cap Ibu dan Anak. It didn’t help that the menu actually had a description stating warding off coughs was one of the health benefits of Almonds. But as a dessert, I really didn’t mind it, but perhaps again with some roasted almond thrown in to jazz it up a little.

There was a Sesame Dessert (no prizes for guessing what it’s made of) which we didn’t try, but maybe next time.

To wash these down we ordered Rose tea. The Rose tea with honey came in two versions, hot and iced.

Iced Rose Tea with Honey

Hot Rose Tea with Honey

I tried both, and decided I liked them both equally. The first time I had Rose tea, I thought the aroma was a bit overwhelming and I could only manage a few sips. But perhaps this restaurant prepared it the right way and it tasted fine this time.

No doubt I will be making a return trip for a bit more of the dessert, or other literally-named foodstuff. Let’s see what Maurina suggests next time.

The Mangga Wani Tree

Speaking of mango trees (see previous post)… I thought I’d written about my favourite type of mango, the Mangga Wani, but apparently I’ve not. Strange. But Manggga Wani is not always to everyone’s liking. Its pungent sweet smell and its sweet meaty flesh could trigger headhaches in at least a few people I know. But I love it.

Mangga Wani trees have two effects on me – first, they remind me of my tree house when I was kid, and they “remind” me of a warm and fuzzy feeling. You’ll see.

On one road bend in Kg Pancur Papan, you’ll this treehouse on a sturdy pokok Jati. We used to have a giant pokok Jati in our front yard, but not far from the Jati, we also had a perfectly round pohon mangga Wani. We used to sit in its shade all the time, and a few of us kena Undu and turned purple on a few occasions. I also recall clumsy caterpillars slipping off the branches onto a friend’s head who I swear could have died from a heart-attack. But my fondest memory is of a treehouse I built myself up in the tree. It was a basically some think planks across some very thick branches that gave me enough flat surface to hide away from the world, very much like the one in the picture, though probably smaller.

But mine had a make-shift roof to protect me from the elements, and it even had a light for my visits at night, connected to our house nearby pakai wayar merah hitam. I was such a loner as a kid, and the treehouse was my own sanctuary. My fascination for tree houses has not disappeared, I might just build another proper one on some trees on my plot of land you see below.

So this thing about being all warm and fuzzy when talking about mango trees in unfortunately not quite as heartwarming as it seems. I was sitting on the bench under the tree one Sunday morning trying to do my math homework. From the corner of my eye I could just spot mum’s favourite tom cat that I was sure had signs of dementia slither past (ironically it was called si Mangga or Yangga or something~ we weren’t exactly friends ~ and the name’s no joke). So I was sat down there legs hanging from the bench, and I’d just completed a math problem and was feeling rather pleased with myself. And I was beginning to feel warm. It wasn’t long before I realized the bloody kucing tua macam inda bedusa pissing on me bloody leg! I was stunned. Clearly this cat did not just have mental problems, it also had serious bladder problems too!! Pissed (ahem) I ran after it in a rage of fury but failed miserably to catch it. Just when I thought I was beginning to like maths, this cat decides to use me as shooting practice! No wonder I failed my O Level mathematics. It’s not put me off mangoes though.