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.

Meet… umm… Lady Gaga..?

 

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Early this year I decided to chop off this Mango tree because it was half-dead anyway from termite infestation (Tree-huggers, relax).  But I thought I’d be more creative than to simply lob off the trunks, and give the tree a post-humous function.  I recall my school-leaver primary school Science teacher saying if you peel off the bark around the main trunk of a tree, its water and food supply would be cut off and it would die eventually.  So this I did with this mango tree, as I’d decided to fix it canopy over the dead trunk and turn it into a useful hut.  Everything seemed to work the way I imagined they would… Until I visited the beach house again this week after 2 months’ absence … only to be confronted by this monstrosity.  To my horror, the bloody tree had continued to grow beneath the canopy!  Never have I felt utter failure before! When I first set my eyes on it, I thought Lady Gaga had descended upon me!

So my science education obviously didn’t work. And this was not my finest hour.  And for this to be witnessed by a few friends I’d been hoping to impress was not what I had had in mind. 

 

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Lady Gaga undressed.

 

 

 

Food Revolution Day, 19th May

On 19 May 2012, my food idol, Jamie Oliver O.B.E. lauched the first ever Food Revolution Day (@Foodrev #Foodrevolution) with the aim of highlighting the world’s food issues to make a difference and “to promote the mission for better food and education for everyone”.

Of course I thought this was a noble cause, as with many others initiated by Jamie, and of course I was ready to support this. I make no secret of being a big fan of Jamie’s.

So, come the day (remember Brunei is 8hrs ahead of London), I had breakfast with a diehard fan of Muse, Wan Bellamy, at the oft-featured Puteh restaurant in Tutong.

I had this for breakfast, the original Kampung-style nasi with sambal pusu, wrapped in Nyirek leaf.

Breakfast bites.

So for a laugh, I took a photo of it and posted it on Instagram and tagged @Jamieoliver, @Foodrev and #Foodrevolution, and thought nothing more of it.

Until about an hour later, when the pic got “Liked” and featured by none other than the official Food Revolution people. Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’d like to think it was Jamie himself who tagged me. (It might of course not have been him, but indulge me.)

And if you looked carefully, you’ll see that my pic was in fact the FIRST FAVOURITE of the Day!!

Now, any sane person would blog about this immediately. I wanted to, but given that I have the attention span of a fly, I got distracted and never got round to doing it.

I remember when I first met Jamie in Canary Wharf in London at a book signing. I decided that standing in line after 300 people simply wasn’t a guarantee to see him. I did not pay 40 quid for the taxi idiot to send me to the wrong building and for me to get chased by security sprint across town macam urang gila to find the right location, just to queue up but NOT see Jays. At this point I was like an obsessed fan, and I think the lady at the wrong Waterstones was ready to press the Panic alarm under her desk upon seeing my reaction at being told I was at the wrong place.

So when I finally ambled to the right location, I just stood at the head of the queue where Jamie was and waited, and waited … and waited more. And finally when the book-signing session was over, I screamed so loudly at Jamie, grabbed to shake his hand, and probably scared the life out of him. Jamie was nice enough to ask “You alright, mate?” – at which point, I think I rather un-coolly passed out cos I simply have no recollection whatsoever about what happened next. I just hope I didn’t wet myself in the process. I don’t think Jamie was impressed either, and you could see him thinking in his head “Urang gila mana lagi ni..??”

So back to this picture, I do strongly believe it was Jamie himself who “liked” my Instagram post and made it the First Favourite. But I don’t think he’d own up now cos that Canary Wharf encounter scarred him for life.

I really must try to act more elegantly in the presence of celebrities.

Binjai & Belunu

Binjai OR Belunu?

You know what? I could never tell the difference between the two if they flew and burst into my face!! I know one’s supposed to be sour and good for pickling only to be re-incarnated into future ambuyat sauces; and the other’s supposed to be sweet and best eaten immediately.

Meet Jay Leno.

I’ve not asked my mum prior to writing this post, because she’s told me so many times which one’s which, you get too embarrassed to ask again. But I do believe the binjai is bigger and brown, while the belunu is smaller and has a greener peel with brown patches – no, wait, that’s my auntie Yot’s hyperpigmented cheeks (not sure why she looks green sometimes).

It doesn’t help either that in my language there’s another name for one of them, “Benyu”. This may be trivial to many of you out there, but for an online-certified dyslexic and a borderline ADHD person like me, this is a challenge.

The Binjai/ Belunu reminds me of a set of identical twins who were in my Ugama class when I was little. Not that they looked like Binjai or Belunu (although I do know a few lantern-jawed friends who we used to call “scooter” or “binjai” or “Celine Dion”, but let’s not get into that here). These twins were identical – equally shirt-hanger-looking especially as they both wore huge Tudong planet that flapped in the wind much like the loose turkey underchin waddle of my primary school English teacher whenever she turned to scream familiar yet undeserved abuse at us (and we still had to stand up and say “Thank you, teacher!” after each class. ahh… naivite and innocence.) – I couldn’t bloody tell them apart even if my life depended on it! In fact, I still bloody can’t!!

I bumped into one of them again recently after sooo many years… and I could only manage a “Hi…apa abarnya eh..??” investing all my energy into avoiding mentioning either of their uniquely unforgettable names, “Yapoi” and “Yanggeh” (how’s that for some kampung-chic eh?), for fear of being slapped by their twig-like hand across my face. I’ve been told being hit in the face with a twig is more painful than being struck by a thick wooden plank. My childhood friend, Yajam, once managed to corner me during a war game and snatch my toy gun as he turned around to dash away only to ram his jerawat-infested face into a wooden palang that was conveniently low-hanging. He told me it was painful. I think I peed in shorts just laughing at the fallen soldier. I really do hope he’s not joined the army. I still don’t know about this incident with the twig though, although I suspect it has to do with him and my late Nini Yah’s disappearing chickens. But anyway, yeah, I didn’t want to call Yapoi “Yanggeh”, or vice-versa, although I really wouldn’t understand it if they took offence. They’re identical twins for God’s sake!

The Binjai-Belunu Roulette

With the fruit you see in here then, when it’s cut and served like that, I’m always hoping it’s the sweet one that I’m about to put into my mouth. But so many times, I end up with that evil sour one!

Buah Rokam

I was on my way out to work that Thursday morning (Tamu day in Tutong) when our amah came running at a speed I’d never seen her do before, told by my mum to hand me this, Buah Rokam, that they’d just bought from the tamu.

I was mesmerised. At first I thought “Where in hell did these cherries come from?”, and then I thought, “Wait, Why the hell are you wearing my Volcom t-shirt?” as I shot arrow gazes at the amah who was now limping back into the house, seemingly out of breath.

Anyway, I’d never seen these Rokam fruit before. They look so similar to fresh Red Cherries, except these come in a bunch on a vine, rather than separately like cherries do. But come to think of it, I’ve never actually seen Cherries that have come straight of the trees. So I could be wrong here.

Later on I asked dad what they were, and if they’re local. He said they were indeed local Rokam fruit. But I’d just never seen known them before until that day.

The flesh of the fruit isn’t like that of cherries though; it’s more fibrous, less juicy, and the skin was perhaps slightly thicker and it has a slight bitter taste. The pit too is lighter in colour than the Cherry’s. But nevermind the taste, I was more fixated on the simple beauty of the fruit.

So, there you go, proof that I’ve not eaten everything tolak batu in Brunei, hard as that may be to believe.

Pisang Goreng and Farting Fishes

So I was in my favourite winter place, London, again this last Christmas, and during my extended stay there I was indulging in all things that would send my dietitian mad (although secretly I’ve always believed she was mad anyway, what, telling me to have teh tarik with low fat milk?? Honestly, I’d never been so defensive with anyone ever before until I saw my this dietitian who seemed permanently stuck to her swivel chair.)

Ok back to London. You see, during my year-end vacations like this, I normally just want to wind down, chill, relax… and this I absolutely did over Christmas, sleeping as much as I wanted, waking up late (or not at all), and eat pretty much what I wanted. In trendy speak then, I lived pretty much “like a baws”… Well, that’s just how I “roll” I guess…

But which insane person would choose Winter in London over hot sunny Brunei, you might ask. Well, me.

But here’s the thing about me when I go away over extended periods – being a kampung boy, you can take me out of Brunei, but not quite the Brunei out of me, and there were occasions during my visit when I got the sudden craving for Malay food. But that’s really not a problem at all in London. When I first arrived in the UK in 1991 there were already three Malay restaurants that catered to the fancies of Bruneians, Malaysians and Indonesians alike.

I was particularly fond of one basement restaurant called Nahar, which served a real treat like this one.

Cucur Pisang & Ice Cream

This was the first time ever I’d eaten the humble Cucur Pisang (“Pisang goreng” according to Malaysians, “Banana Fritters” nya uang putih) WITH Ice cream AND Caramel sauce – I mean, whodda thunk that something we took for granted at home could be sold in a restaurant for 4.50 quid! (In 1991, this was about B$11).

I remember thinking how I really just wished I was the one who had first thought of this brilliant idea! But as I was at the time more preoccupied with more important life-questions like “Do fish fart?”, to give one example, I guess there was little chance of that brilliant dessert to ever have been my brainchild.

But flatulent fishes and blue bananas (don’t ask) apart, my most recent trip then involved two trips to Malay restaurants in London (of which there are at least six in Central London itself now). And for old times’ sake, I just had to have the Pisang Goreng.

We also ordered Kuih Lenggang (they call it differently in that restaurant, I forget).

Lenggang

Now, a single Kuih Lenggang would normally set me back 50 cents in Brunei now, but on this occasion it cost me also 4.50 quid… perhaps because of that sprinkling of icing sugar over it is so difficult to do… or perhaps it was the oversized dessert plate and spoon… or perhaps because it was just the simple fact we were indeed in London. Whatever the costing breakdown though, I can’t help but be amazed at how much money can be made from these simple desserts!

I didn’t really have to order the Cucur pisang with ice cream, or the rolled up green crepe with coconut filling, but being away from home somewhat makes you do crazy things, like convincing yourself you’d fit into that size XS shirt that’s on sale at Zara, nevermind the seams bursting on the sides. So in trying to purge my cravings for some Malay sweets, I actually paid B$20 for one Kuih Lenggang and one Cucur pisang with a bit of ice cream… yikes.

At the end of the day though, you’ve gotta admire the creative and entrepreneurial minds behind this idea to sell these simple foods as exotic, and their ability to make them desirable for Londoners who’ve never been to Brunei or Malaysia – as well as for foolish visitors like me who tesliur tia jua kan makan cucur pisang di London. Paloi kan. And the frustrating thing is, I still don’t know if fishes pass wind…

Soto Hj Jamudin

Anyone from Tutong would readily identify with Soto Hj Tuah at the Tamu Serambangun, Tutong. But a lesser known, though just as tasty and just as popular among many Urang Tutong too, perhaps, is Soto Hj Jamudin in Kampung Luagan Duduk. If my memory serves me well, this soto has not been around quite as long as Hj Tuah’s, although I have to admit I’ve not been a frequent client. But the few times I’ve been there, I’ve never been disappointed.

You know how in most restaurants now the soto is simply a bowl of noodles with condiments chucked in and poured over with a rather generic soup or broth? Well Soto Hj Jamudin is not like that. People say a good soto is defined by its soup. Well, this is certainly the case for Soto Hj Jamudin. In fact, it’s one of the few sotos around that I can think of and quite confidently say have “that Malay taste” ~ real Malay spice mix with strong Cangkih and Bunga Lawang ~ much unlike the said generic bland soup.

I was there recently with the whole family for a very rare family breakfast. Rare because 1. I’m not normally a breakfast person, 2. I don’t breakfast with the the family a lot of times, and 3. Soto for breakfast, really??
Nevertheless, I felt rather compelled to share this soto with the rest of the world… well, with my two readers, my mum, and the friend I owe money to and who’s trying to locate me through this blog. I kid, of course, coz really only one person reads this blog- and it’s not my mum.

But anyway…

Soto Hati Buyah~ my absolute favorite!!

The lada rindu. Quite a kick actually!

Need I say more?

There’s also a certain Kampung charm in the way this ‘restaurant’ operates. It’s basically a little place with a few seats and a food prepared from the house kitchen. Well, it is essentially a two-storey wooden kampung house. You don’t get a lot of these ‘restaurant’ any more nowadays.

On this occasion too I witnessed a customer who’d wanted to take away $10 worth of soto, only to be told straight up, “$5 saja ah… kan mengampiti urang lain lagi.” To me, this can only happen because the place embodies a real community spirit in making sure as many people as possible “ampit” its food, rather than worry about profit.

I’d better be careful here and not fall into the trap of becoming a restaurant review, which is not what this blog is about in the first place; we’re about the food. But Soto Hj Jamudin qualifies as an institution that is made up of its food, its service, its operation, its place, its spirit – this really is a prime example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, where you simply can’t look at just the food alone.

The person who started it all has sadly departed, Mulah Hj Jamudin (Al-Fatihah). But his legacy lives on in this little gem of a restaurant and its special soto, and long may it continue.

(London, 25 Dec, 2011. Merry Christmas family & friends!)

My Latest Obsession

[Note: October & November entries remain in draft. These will be uploaded as soon as I manage to find the pics that disappeared when the macbook crashed.]

I was in Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, Vietnam recently. Such a beautiful city. I’ve travelled quite a bit, but I really have to say that this trip was probably the first one ever I totally did not prepare or do research for. The reason being I was so busy with work, inda tekain-kain lagi. So this trip was something that I was really looking forward to as a break from work, and lagipun this was going to be the second last RBA flight to Saigon. So kan menyampati.

When I say “unprepared” I mean I had no idea what to expect, didn’t know what to look out for, didn’t know quite how things are done, not even the general history of the place. So this was really a journey of discovery ~ we were prepared to discover new things as we went along. I think it’s quite a novel concept as well.

Anyway, one of the things I discovered in this colourful and history-rich city was the Vietnamese Weasel Coffee. NYaaaammmmaaaannnnn!

The complete Drip filter set and the bag of coffee ground.

This Coffee is called the Weasel Coffee because it comes out from the “wrong” end of the weasel. It’s the equivalent of Indonesia’s famous Kopi Luwak, which comes out of a Civet (Musang) instead of a Weasel (Tikus-like).

Coffee connoisseurs assess coffee in terms of aroma, body and acidity, and to me the Weasel coffee has the most fantastic aroma, a “solid” body (it’s usually drunk espresso shot-style), and it’s low in acidity. It’s certainly in a different league from our local coffee, which by comparison (in my opinion, not that I consider myself a connoisseur), has medium aroma, rather weak in body, and rather acidic – but still a good drink. But when I first sipped the Weasel Coffee in the unassuming streets of Ho Chi Minh, I was completely blown away! (I just didn’t like the fact it was served warm – but this is due to the dripping process which can take a while. But it seemed they preferred the Iced coffee instead there.)

You see, I never was a coffee drinker until fairly recently (around 6 or 7 years ago). I had always been a tea person, drinking up to 20 cups of strong tea with milk (Teh Kaw), mainly to keep the cold away while living in Britain. A sip of coffee would put my head in a spin, sparking an unenviable migraine, causing me to hurl vomit and equal amounts of swearing. Not a pretty sight or sound.

Then Starbucks came to where I lived, but even then I resisted drinking coffee and ordering “designer tea” instead (how lame) – I reminded myself “Starbucks isn’t real coffee”. So it would seem ironic that eventually Starbucks would be the one to encourage my interest in coffee. Starbucks was just dalam pelintasan in town, you couldn’t avoid it. And as I began to drop by regularly, I began to experiment with very milky coffee, to ease myself into drinking real strong coffee eventually.

So now, having educated myself about coffee, I am always on the look out for the best. And I think I might have just found it in the Vietnamese Coffee.

So now I talk about it constantly, and colleagues at work pretend to be interested when I know full well they’d much rather have their heads shoved up the bloody weasel than listen to the drone of my voice. But that’s how good it is! Too bad supply is limited here in Brunei.

Now, I’ve raved about the Kopi Brunei in this blog before. Sure, you can’t compare it to the Vietnamese Weasel Coffee – that would be unfair – but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be sooo underrated and be snobbishly downgraded by many to be suitable only for your common Kadai Kopi or restaurant mamak. I think “trendy” coffee shops should include it in their menu for what it is. Afterall, if you can sell a cup with 3/4 steamed milk and 1/4 cup of coffee and drizzle it with those syrupy things and still call it “coffee”, then surely a local Kopi O could claim its rightful place in the menu.

[p.s. This rant may not make sense at times. But it’s late and I’m groggy, but determined to put in a December entry. Will review later.]

It’s here again….

The first day of Raya, Wednesday, 1 Syawal 1432 Hijriah/ 31 September 2011, this year was a relatively subdued event altogether. Yes, there was the usual crowd and chaos from morning to midnight, but it all seemed much calmer this year, perhaps because I’ve become so jaded to the celebrations, but perhaps also it’s generally been a well-behaved audience, entah. But I do know I’ve still not quite mastered the art of reacting with subtlety to very deep voiced “women”, and I still don’t know where to look when obese cousins start discussing their failed attempts at various diets as they chomped down on ultra-fat beef rendang and finished two bottles of coke, each.

Also this year, I had expected a chorus of the euphemistic “Sihat kau sudah!” comments – to which I would muster a half-ass senyum kambing and grit my teeth – but these didn’t come my way at all, much to my suspicion and surprise, and I was spared the agony of self-questioning as I scream “Why, God, Whyy???!”. Oh, the drama.

Let me walk you through it.

The much awaited announcement for the moon sighting came at around 7.15pm, but was leaked as usual via SMS slightly earlier, and through that dubious fountain of information and voyeuristic pleasure called “Facebook Status”. This was accompanied by successive explosions of fireworks, and irrepressive SMS alerts, all in celebration of the end of Ramadan and the arrival of Aidilfitri. The village is all lit up in a blinding array of neon light, adding to the festive mood.

On the morning of Syawal we returned from prayers at the mosque and received crowds of well-wishers. If you had been among them, you would have been met by this…

The poster was made by my 5 year-old niece, Lina.

Bapa’s decided to keep it simple this year, and planned for Satay, Kelupis, Ketupat and Lemang only for Day 1.

home-made ketupat beras merah

kelupis

Bapa's favourite - a must have every Raya - rice cooked in bamboo, Lemang

my lunch on Day 1 of Raya

(How ironic was it that with all the food and kuih and cakes… my liur was only for ketupat and Kari Ayam… in a can, by Chef Wan!)

the wheel of goodies

Yellow or Red Sikoi?

Day 2, today, was all about home-cooked stuff. We had Nasi lemak to offer guests. Nothing fancy, these are what you would find on the dinner table at my home any day.

Talur Masin Wedges. How simple can you get for a Hari Raya Openhouse?

Sambal Pusu

Hati Ayam Begoreng

Acar Timun

Ayam Goreng Masin

The only problem is that I’ve been feeling rather exhausted and slightly unwell over the last two days. So I’ve not been the most gracious of hosts, finding myself in bed upstairs most of the time, making only sporadic visits to the reception – and making a quit exit back upstairs soon enough.

But I really must say that this year’s Raya has been rather calm.

But let’s just see how long it is until I get that so-far-elusive comment on my third chin!

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir & Batin!

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.