Greetings from a very sleepy corner of the universe. I thought that travelling back west from Melbourne would be easy peasy, but it turns out that, well, it is a bit tricky. Perhaps only if you get up at 4am to climb 850 steps into the Brunei jungle, when what you normally do is busy but not all that active. For whatever reason, my legs hate me and sleep is evasive. Terrified by my clear lack of fitness, I now think of the gym. But then swiftly of making marshmallows. Ahem. Or is that Amen?
We stopped off at Brunei on the way back from Melbourne. Brunei is one of the worlds smallest and also wealthiest countries, tucked away on the north coast of Borneo. Brunei is surrounded by Malaysia and has a similar food culture, with its own unique twists.
Food and wine lovers, take note: Brunei is a dry country. You are allowed to bring in two bottles of wine (and must declare them, excess will be confiscated and I should know, it happened to me), but it is well worth a stop off to explore the food markets, the beautiful mosques, see some monkeys, crocodiles (yes!) and spend a relaxing night in the rainforest.
On our first night we had dinner with some local food bloggers, organised and led by local Brunei food blogger Thanis Lim. Thanis brought us to a homestyle restaurant (Aminah Arif Restaurant, Kiulap) and introduced us to some fascinating local specialities including ambuyat, a very sticky, gloopy and quite flavourless substance made from sago that you wind gently around what look like chopsticks crossed with tongs (candas) before dipping into extremely intense dips. Fermented durian was one, so if you have come across this wildly stinky fruit before, you will know what I am talking about. You mustn’t chew it, it must be swallowed whole. A surreal and peculiar flavour bomb experience, but a must. There is a little video of it below.
After that we headed to Gadong Night Market (Pasar Malam Gadong) to sample some street food. Guided expertly by Marul of Geek in White and Maurina of Turquoise and Roses, there were lots of highlights. I adored the whole experience, but to pick a few, a must is a collection of chicken bums on a stick. Yes, I said that. I ate it too. Imagine firm but yielding chicken fat, covered with chicken skin, spiced and barbecued over hot coals? Forget it is a bum, or even a series of them, and just eat it. Delicious. At 50p a skewer, some restraint is required, and there is also so much more to eat. I also loved the fried chicken served with coconut rice and sauce, wrapped in a banana leaf (also 50p and a meal for one), plus sublime bananas deep fried in spring roll wrappers and served with a little chocolate sauce (10p each).
There was durian everywhere, as the season had just begun. They greeted my eyes and assaulted my nose. Durian, if you don’t know, is aggressively green and spiky and smells of the gutter and of decay. Imagine a whiff of a forgotten long deceased animal overlaid with particularly piquant citrus notes, but then that it tastes of ambrosial vanilla custard? If you can get past the smell, as in Brunei and other countries in the region, you might adore it. I can just about deal with it, but the smell frequently makes me want to run.
The next morning, we met Reeda Malik (who blogs at anakbrunei.org), with some other local photo bloggers, and embarked on a tour of the water village (a village built on stilts in the river), a boat trip to see some proboscis monkeys (I saw one, I really did!), a trip to the stunning white mosque (Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque), a whizz through another market (with some tastes of course), before embarking on a tour to the jungle, more on that in my next post.
A very busy and exciting day, no?!
See my first post from this trip: A Postcard from Melbourne & Victoria
I visited Brunei on a stopover after the #TourMelbourne blog trip, created and managed by iambassador with Tourism Victoria, and Visit Melbourne in partnership with Royal Brunei Airlines. All content is of my choosing, and I retain all editorial control.