Salai Stuff

The bile-generating flavoursome smells.
The thick, billowing smoke.
Eye-watering, literally.

It’s the unmistakeable salai or grilled stuff. In the past, the grills were placed randomly among the various foodstalls at the Tutong tamu and the seasonal ones like the Tamu Perayaan or the Gerai Ramadan – only to suffocate pneumatic patients like me, but don’t worry, carry on.

Five years ago they started isolating these smokey chimneys into a corner, thankfully. But when you’ve been fasting the whole day, the slightest waft of the burning meat can have the strange effect of making you splurge unnecessarily and buy penyungkaian enough to feed the whole kampung.

Some time ago I promised myself to restrict visits to the Gerai Ramadan to a minimum. So today was one of those few occasions in which I decided to “splurge” (in fact this was only the second time during this puasa season, so I’ve been good). Only, today I didn’t go to the Gerai Ramadan, I went closer to home, my Auntie Naimah’s famous tongkeng stand in Kg Keriam.

Notice the grill looking suspiciously similar to an atomic bomb shell.

Camera-shy Bu’ajah Naimah only started her business recently, but she’s been getting a lot of fans!

I bought 5 sticks of tongkeng, a whole chicken and a special burger, and reached home only to discover two free chicken wings salai. In coolspeak, Awesoooommmee!

And I’m not just bigging-up my auntie’s gerai, I know for a fact her food is real homemade fare.

But I suppose any seller would claim that. But when I see fluorescent red chicken wings on the grill like those you see below, my first instinct would be to keep clear in case there’s radioactive contamination.

Some food colouring is OK I guess, but when it gets bright red like that, you cannot help but be a little bit suspicious.

Brunei finally gets it!

For all my life, all the jelly or agar-agar I’ve had have always been monochromatic semi-solid pieces, although in more recent years they’ve become more creative like this:

Creative, yes. Tasty, yes. But karas. And that’s not how I like my jelly.

I like mine wobbly and melt-in-your-mouth soft. So I’m pleased to have discovered that a few restaurants now have finally got the idea of the wobbly jelly.

At a recent tahlil ceremony, we were served this:

It’s coconut jelly with real coconut flesh. And guess what- it was soft and wobbly, just the way jelly should be.

Chicken Diovolo

Fasting from dawn to dusk makes me have unprecedented cravings for food I wouldn’t normally care for.

Like this Fettuccine Diovolo – a spicy tomato and roasted capsicum-based dish, with Italian grilled chicken sapak.

But here’s the odd thing, I don’t normally eat Fettuccine or other broad-sized pasta or noodles for that matter (Kuay Tiaw included).

My Repressed Memory Therapy sessions have revealed that my disfavour resulted from one near-death experience involving precisely Kuay Tiaw during childhood. I remember on my way back from school, dad used to stop and tapau some Kuay Tiaw goreng from the Chinese makeshift restaurant which was rather precariously located behind the Maria Filling Station smack in town, or from another makeshift outfit by the Tutong River run by the legendary Hj Tuah (of Soto Hjh Tuah fame). Notice the ‘makeshift’ theme in these ‘restaurants’. On one unfortunate occasion, the thick noodles I’d put in mouth just wouldn’t budge and was lodged in my throat. I have no recollection of what happened next. You see, after much unchoreographed animation and running around in circles – which my parents probably thought were just my latest rendition of an expressive dance – I probably passed out.

I do hope my next therapy session will recover some more memories, for me to find ‘closure’, as they say. ahem.

In case you’re wondering, I did finally make peace with the Kuay Tiaw, and by implication all other broadsized noodles or pasta, around 2003. It was at CA Mohammed in Gadong, with my friend Tom, whose Kuay Tiaw it was that I’d initially tasted saja, and then proceeded to finish sampai licin.

So there you go. The fettuccine I made wasn’t half bad at all. In fact, it was so good, I made it again for sungkai the next day. I still like my spaghetti and mee hoon though.

Thirst Quencher

It’s Day 8 of puasa. It’s 4pm on a hot sunny day. I’ve got a friggin migraine slowly creeping up on me. And I’m on the brink of death from thirst.

This avocado shake would be just perfect right now. There’s something about the avocado that I can’t quite put my finger on but I love the combination of the rich and creamy taste, not sweet but rather an indescribable ‘umami’, especially when ice-blended like this with a bit of condensed milk or chocolate sauce.

The sago pearl decoration isn’t necessary but is nice to look at, and does give the slush a bit of bite.

And it’s exactly the drink I could do with right now. Delusions of a puasa-ing man.

Sapit Moden

*I’m counting this as a July post. I’d drafted a few posts, but the bloody computer crashed. So I’m obviously over the moon about that. Luckily a very clever friend of mine managed to salvage that harddisk thingy, and some pics I’d taken for some posts I’d been writing in my head. So here goes.

First of all though, Selamat menyambut Bulan Ramadan 1432 dan selamat menunaikan ibadah puasa to Muslim friends and readers. I started this blog exactly 3 years ago (Hijrah calendar) on one fine morning 1 Ramadan as well. So this is like an anniversary post really. Only a right-minded fasting person would blog during the first day of puasa, kan?

I have been very busy, so I’ve been slacking a bit on the cyber-authoring side. But I just checked the traffic, and I’m happy to say there’s been a steady flow of readers despite the lack of updates.

In the past few weeks, as is customary in the days before Puasa in Brunei, there have been a lot of makan-makan invitations in the form of “tahlil” ceremonies, prayers for our beloved deceased, a rememberance. But rather than being grim and sad, these tahlils are usually “happy” family events, celebratory almost – but not exactly an event you’d order a cake for with “Takziah” on it (though the thought did cross my mind once or twice) – it’s like we’re at peace with our loved ones not being with us anymore, and that they are now in God’s grace. For more recent bereavements, obviously there’s still some raw emotions, but when the whole kampung comes to pray for your family it has the psychological effect of calming you down, providing a sense of community and support over your sad loss. It’s therapeutic almost.

Then, there’s the food. A whole buffet of rich, greasy and calorie-pumped savoury foods and teeth-rotting sweets to follow.

At a recent event this thing caught my attention, the Sapit. This is a traditonal Bruneian sweet that is sugary and crispy, and is excellent for dunking into your equally saccharine coffee or tea.

The Sapit is actually a sweet crepe that’s either rolled up into cigar-shapes (Love letters), or folded twice into triangles like you see below.

Triangular Sapit, Cacap just peering over

But the peculiar thing about this otherwise simple snack is the bright colours and the flavours. The original Sapit I grew up with were plain batter colour, with some blackened ones probably made by a Bu’ajah with a short attention span so jadi angus. And the ones I love are those with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

So I consider these ones ‘modern’ because I’d never seen or tasted Green Pandan-, or Pink Strawberry-, or even Yellow Durian-flavoured Sapit until now. (You don’t see the Durian one in the pic except some labih-labihan).

I’m not a purist who’d say “this is an abomination of pure Bruneian sapit tradition, and it’s against my human right to be served these artificial concoctions!”.

I just think they’re… interesting.

*The Cacap deserves its own post. I simply do not know enough to write about it, although I’ve seen a contraption in our kitchen I was told was for making Cacap, but I’m convinced had been used for hot-branding animals, and possibly children.