Isnain, 01 Rajab 1439 (Sunday, 18 March 2018 21:28)

Ambuyat Our Iconic Heritage

Ambuyat Our Iconic Heritage

By Jessica Tiah

Many countries sought for their national traditions to be officially recognised by Unesco as part of the world’s heritage an exclusive listing of cultural treasures to be safeguarded and preserved for future generations to come.

In order for these traditions to remain alive, they must be relevant to its community and continuously recreated and passed down from each generation hence the idea of safeguarding these cultural treasures centres on the transfer of traditional knowledge, skills and meaning.

The Unesco intangible heritage lists include traditional dances, national festivals and cuisines and arts and crafts from all corners of the world. The Chinese dragonboat festivals, Argentinian tango, the Mediterranean diet, Indonesian Angklung and Peruvian textiles and art are samples of this exclusive inventory. The gastronomic meal of the French is a recent addition as well, proudly achieved by its country of origin which lobbied for this status since 2006.

We may not have the complicated French art and science of good eating but we have a strong contender, which is unique, rare and highly valued by our society, in the form of a lump of white goo better known as the ambuyat.

Ambuyat is made from sago, which comes from the trunk of a Rumbia palm tree.

These trees thrive in our tropical climate and take 10 years to mature when it is then processed to produce sago. The trees are cut down and the trunks are scrapped out and mixed with water, creating a milky liquid which is sifted and drained to finally produce the lumpy white sago.

The dish itself is made by pouring hot water into sago powder which may sound simple but those who have tried would agree that it is not as simple as it looks.

This action must be done in a certain manner to produce a successful serving of ambuyat.

Because of its glue-like texture, the ambuyat is eaten with a two-pronged bamboo stick known as a chandas.

The ambuyat is rolled onto the chandas into a ping-pong ball sized morsel, dipped into sauce and swallowed as whole.

On its own, the ambuyat is tasteless hence it must be eaten with a variety of sauces and dips. The binjai dip, made from a local sour fruit of the same name and the tempoyak dip, made with durian are local favourites.

It is common for ambuyat to be served with dishes of meat and vegetables.

Locals tie this cuisine closely to their history and culture, yet its origin has been highly debated in the past, with Sarawak, our neighbouring state of Malaysia, claiming similar rights to this dish.

Several hundred years ago, the empire of the Brunei Sultanate spanned across the entire island of Borneo and beyond, hence assimilation of our individual national cultures is not unexpected.

However, despite the dispute over its inception, ambuyat is more widely known in Brunei than Sarawak or any other parts of Borneo. This delicacy may have lost its prominence elsewhere but here in Brunei, it remains popular.

According to a staff at Aminah Arif Restaurant, there are customers who come in as early as 10am in the morning for ambuyat.

"Ambuyat is definitely a favourite of our customers," he said. "We have a constant flow of customers from morning until night, and most of them will order the ambuyat."

Hjh Nora Hj Md Yusof, a loyal patron of the restaurant said, "I practically come here for ambuyat every week, I really enjoy it."

When asked if the ambuyat is a Bruneian icon, she answered, "Although it is also available in Sarawak, it is definitely more recognised in Brunei and represented like an identity to Bruneians."

Civil servants Hj Emmy Hj Kadir and Dk Yusdinah Pg Hj Amjah said, "Personally we can’t say that we’re huge fans of ambuyat, but we do eat it once in a while when we feel like having something local ... something Bruneian."

"Eating ambuyat is a very Bruneian thing to do and even at the very least we would have it several times within a year."

Local businessman, 28-year-old Beng Lim said, "I really enjoy ambuyat, and have even tried making it myself a few times although the success rate is not very high."

"I find the ambuyat very iconic to Brunei," said Rajiah Hj Taha, aged 27, who works in the private sector.

"It is a dish that I would always introduce to my foreign friends when they visit Brunei because it is a must-try local delicacy."

And maybe one day, many Bruneians aspire that this humble local dish may take its place amongst other customs to be safeguarded by Unesco as an intangible cultural heritage of the world.


Jessica Tiah


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