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.

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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.

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.

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.

Rainbow Cake

At the risk of contradicting myself (see previous post), I must confess that I have a weakness for one particularly colourful treat, the Kek Pelangi or Rainbow Cake.

Maybe it’s the colour. Maybe it’s the flavour (extreme vanilla). One thing for sure is that it has a Kryptonite effect on me, all the time, without fail.

Someone I know said to me that Kek Pelangi is a “kek biasa-biasa pakai minum patang” (a normal tea cake), and she added that it’s not quite in the same league as the popular Kek Tapak Kuda or Cheesecake or Carrot cake and the like – seen as more classy or trendy – and served during Hari Raya. Perhaps there’s some truth in what my colleague said, that the fairly recent wave of creamy and fancy multi-layered (not to mention, expensive) cakes has taken a grip on Bruneians.

But I like Kek Pelangi, which you can buy in a Kadai runcit for a $1 for decent slice, or at the Pasar Malam (ants optional). I like Cheesecake and Carrot cakes and Tapak Kuda too, but somehow they’re not quite what I can have, or even want, for my morning or or afternoon tea on a regular basis. And no, you don’t get Kek Pelangi during raya nowadays, but I do remember having them with Kek Kismis and Kek ‘Marbal’ during raya visits not too far back in time.

I guess I’m just a nostalgic person. Or maybe I just like simple unpretentious things (-or people, for that matter). I like good old-fashioned cakes – the real stuff, you know.

Psychedelic Treat

Too often, I buy foodstuff because they’re just so attractive and eye-catching rather than because of their flavour, like this one:

I bought these colourful cupcakes simply because I was mesmerized by the psychedelic colours. They were also only a dollar. And I was also a bit late for work, so I thought I should buy some “pemanis” to bribe my colleagues with and avert death stares as I walked into the office. Works like a charm.

I look at these pics and can’t stop thinking “hippopotamus” – for some inexplicable reason – maybe it’s the pink spots, and I associate pink with hippos. Entah.

But I didn’t actually eat any of these cupcakes because at one point they looked like diseased mushroom heads and rather toxic. So I gladly offered them to my workmates for coffee, as I sat and watched them gobble the cakes down – half-anticipating one or a few of them to keel over backwards, legs akimbo and up in the air, and blue in the face from something like food-poisoning. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, but I still felt queasy from the saturated colours.

And am I the only one who thinks that these garish and gaudy cakes are a bit “poklen”? Again, I won’t even attempt to explain it.

American Idol 10 and an Icy Delight

As I’ve neglected this blog for a few months now, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I remember the last time I thought of properly posting something here the 10th season of American Idol was just starting (January). For the record I don’t usually follow the whole series, I find the weekly live rounds and elimination rather boring. But the first few weeks of audition around the US highlights the best talents, and dredges up the absolute worst – and the hillarious and simply barking mad.

So now that the show’s ended and the winner announced (prematurely tua-sounding Scotty, above), I feel obligated to rewind events.

So there I was in plonked on my couch in front of the TV, semi-decent, just back from work, ready for the first show, in full anticipation of the hillarity of the unashamed and over-inflated egos. Hungry as a kuda, I raided the fridge and got ready to unwind and enjoy the show.

‘A lovely cake with chocolate and vanilla centre’, you might think, and quite justifiably. You might even go further and think ‘Kek Tapak Kuda tebalek’.

But No, not a perfectly sliced cake. But frozen durian monthong. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, surely you’re not surprised.

For those blissfully saved from my reach, until now, I have a thing for durian – simply put.

And to ensure I can have my dosage of durian whenever I need it, I freeze them for out-of-season consumption, such as on this fateful day of American Idol 10 inauguration.

I admit my obsession for durian is a tad worrying, and it doesn’t help that I skive from my Durianers Anonymous (Tutong Chapter) weekly meetings… but I do foresee a potential market for this icy durian serving… even if the market only comprises of equally durian-mad freaks like me.