Et tu, Brunei?

October 3, 2015

image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

Brunei is an interesting place, a seemingly Middle Eastern-style Islamic pseudo-monarchy, way out far East and isolated on the edge of an island. This may come as a bit of a shock to you (as it did to me), to find out that Brunei, despite having a famous Sultan, is NOT in the Middle East. It’s funny because if you had asked me, I wouldn’t have known where to place it on a map, but certainly would not have guessed it was near the Philippines.

Located on the north side of the island of Borneo, in fact, Brunei really is all tucked away and easy to miss or forget about. Although Borneo (which takes its name from Brunei) is the 3rd largest island in the world, Brunei occupies just 1% of that area. Slightly larger than Delaware, it would be the 49th biggest state, and yet has been ranked as high as the 5th richest nation in the world. It is also that high in per capita purchasing power, largely due to the large deposits of petroleum and natural gas, which were discovered in the early 20th century.

The national language is Malay, as it is for Malaysia and Indonesia, who also share Borneo, and there are more speakers of this worldwide than of other popular tongues such as: French, Vietnamese, Korean, Urdu, and Italian. All would seem well aside from a brief 3 ½ year occupation by the Japanese post-Pearl Harbor attack, but there is more to it.

Despite a high standard of living, only behind Singapore in the region, and very much like them, law penalties are unreasonably harsh. When the revised law code was announced in 2014, many including the UN became worried at the list of offenses which could incur the death penalty such as: “Rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, insulting any verses of the Quran…,blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, and murder “. Although their legal system is based on the Britain’s, who had a heavy influence in molding modern Brunei, Sharia law can supersede many rulings or decisions. Stoning is also listed as an acceptable punishment in many cases, but to this date I do not believe any stoning or capital executions have occurred.

In addition, the aforementioned Sultan wields tremendous power in all facets of government. Despite having a parliament, all real power lies with the Sultan, and he and the royal family are sacrosanct. It is an absolute monarchy which no one questions and which has existed in a seemingly unbroken line since 1368. There was also a Sultan Muhammad Ali in 1660, which I had to mention because it’s awesome. And yes before you ask, there are both butterflies and bees on the island of Borneo.

Bruneian cuisine is very similar to that of Malaysia, Singapore, and other nearby countries.  Beef is expensive and thus avoided, as is pork due to halal restrictions. Fish and rice, as well as noodles and some types of indigenous deer are common. A peculiar and unique dish to Brunei is called Ambuyat. It is made from the trunk of a palm tree and is a sticky, slimy goop. Although this is the national dish, I did not make it and I will not apologize, go look up a picture of it.

Instead I made a Bruneian Beriani, which is a chicken and rice dish with a native spice blend. I used a mini food processor to grind the spices and nuts together but a mortar and pestle would also work well. The combination of the seasonings gave the chicken an amazingly earthy flavor and texture. The bright yellow from the turmeric was a nice visual and provided great contrast on the plate.

Turmeric keeps popping up in many dishes and I am beginning to develop quite a fondness for it. In its raw form it is a rhizome that looks like ginger. Long before it was used in cooking; it mainly served as a potent dye for obvious reasons. As a staple of herbal medicine, it has historically been used to treat many ailments of the stomach and liver. After recently injuring my back, I found it listed as an anti-inflammatory and whether it is a placebo effect or not, the times when I have eaten it do seem to be accompanied by an increased abating of symptoms.  You be the judge! As a side dish, I made coconut rice which was delicious and the creaminess from the coconut milk which permeates the rice was a perfect counter point to the spiced nature of the chicken.

I will see you next time in Bulgaria, where we will sadly not be eating bulgur wheat…

 

  


 

Bruneian Beriani

2-3 servings

Ingredients:

2 tsp cinnamon

1/6 tsp clove

1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 cup shallot (or onion +garlic)

1.5 tsp salt

14 g (.5 oz) almonds

1/2 tbs poppy seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric

enough oil/butter to cook onions

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Directions:

  1. Cut chicken into pieces.
  2. Grind together garlic, ginger, chillies, poppy seeds, cashew nuts and almonds.
  3. Heat oil/butter and fry cloves, cinnamon, shallots.
  4. Add in the chicken pieces, 1 tsp salt, and ground ingredients.
  5. Stir to mix and cook covered for 10 minutes.
  6. Add in salt.

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Easy Coconut Rice

3 servings

Ingredients:

3/4 cup medium or long grain rice of your choice

1 1/2 cup coconut milk (I like reduced fat)

1/2 cup water

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Directions:

Follow the standard rice directions per your rice choice.

Make sure to add more water if needed to prevent from burning during cooking.

Use a lower temperature to cook the rice then normal to account for thicker liquid and

lower burning point.

 

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image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

Do you hear that?! It’s getting closer… My God! Your hips… why are they moving like that… it must be… The Samba! Phew, don’t be alarmed, we are just in Brazil and that reaction is perfectly normal, I think.

Brazil is a huge country with a lot of people (5th in population and 5th in area), and although one of the largest energy consumers in the world, much of their power comes from renewable sources, including the largest hydroelectric plant in the world (Itaipu Dam). I’m going to assume you know basic facts like that it is the only South American country to speak Portuguese. Let’s start with a different part of its founding instead. So… which Age of Discovery conquistador claimed Brazil for Portugal? Henry the Navigator? Magellan? Da Gama? Nope… Pedro Álvares Cabral. Exactly, I have no idea who that is either. He was your run of the mill nobleman, military commander, explorer of the time, who was on the heels of Da Gama’s newly found route around Africa. In 1500, he took his fleet further West and discovered what is today Brazil. He has the distinction of possibly being the first human to touch four continents. To settle the claiming of South America between Spain and Portugal, the Pope famously drew a line down the middle, and the land to the East (Brazil) went to Portugal.

Unless you are a trivia buff or just memorized all the world capitals for no good reason, it may surprise you that Rio de Janeiro is not the capital. However, it was the temporary capital of Portugal after 1808 when the royal family fled Lisbon ahead of Napoleon’s invasion. Since 1960, Brasilia has been the capital, a city built at great expense for just this purpose.

When it comes to eating in Brazil, they love their beef. They overtook Australia as the leading beef exporter in 2003 and were only passed this year by India (yes…I know, India… apparently, India exports mostly buffalo which counts as beef in the rankings, but still). So you will be shocked I’m sure to find, not only no beef in my recipe, but no meat at all! This was a bit of a turn for me, but I feel like these dishes gave me a chance to alter the common image of Brazil.

So I made a creamy yam soup that actually does not have any cream in it, and what is affectionately referred to as “tasty sawdust”: Farofa. The yam or sweet potato soup is straight forward and delicious. By blending the yam all the way to the point of puree, the starchiness thickens the dish so there is no need for dairy. The Farofa… is interesting. That is really an understatement but true none-the-less. It is extremely dry and sticks in your throat, the flavor and texture are fascinating though. By using tapioca flour, it absorbs all the moisture from the butter, egg, and onion making a unique kind of paste. I took the dish a step further to farofa tropeiro by adding in some black beans. I’m glad we made it and it did taste good but I’m not sure I will ever get the feeling of that texture out of my mouth. But still, I encourage you to give it a try because you might get something different out of the experience and that is why we are all here in the first place.

I will see you next time in Brunei… the go-to place when you absolutley, positively need a Sultan immediately.

 

  


 

Creamy Yam Soup (Sopa de Cará)

6 servings

Ingredients:

1 lb yam or sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
6 cups beef stock (or vegetable stock))
3 Tbsp Italian parsley (optional)

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Directions:

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil, then add the chunks of yam and cook for five minutes. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook for about three minutes, or until the onions are soft and starting to become clear. Add the stock, bring to a very slow boil, and cook until the yams are very soft and tender.

Rremove the yam chunks from the broth. Using a potato masher, puree the yam completely, then stir the puree back into the broth. Add the cubes of tomato and cook for a five minutes. Turn off the heat and let the soup stand on the stove for about 3 minutes, then serve in bowls or mugs, sprinkling chopped parsley on the surface if desired.

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Farofa

6 servings

Ingredients:

Black Beans (optional)
1 onion
7 oz. tapioca/cassava flour
2 tablespoons of butter
2 eggs

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Directions:

  1. Melt the butter in a medium-hot pan, then fry the onion.
  2. Add the egg and mix for a moment or two.
  3. As the egg scrambles, add in the flour and mix well to make sure everything is buttery.
  4. Cook for a minute or two then remove from the heat.
  5. Season with salt.