Bandar Seri Begawan
Before embarking on the culinary adventure that is Bandar Seri Begawan, it’s important to first brush up on a few rules. Being a strict Sharia country, Brunei may not be the ideal tourist destination for anyone insistent on the regular consumption of pork or alcohol, both of which are prohibited by Islamic law. Non-muslims may bring up to two bottles of spirits or 12 cans of beer into the country for private consumption only. If visiting during Ramadan, show respect by refraining from eating or drinking in public as this may offend fasting locals.
Bruneian cuisine is heavily influenced by the flavours of its close neighbours Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Thus it comes as no surprise that fish, rice, noodles, coconut, spices and chili are commonplace on menus throughout Brunei. Indian, Chinese and Arab influences are also evident but to a lesser degree. Though beef is popular (particularly beef satay), it is quite expensive and thus less common.
It would be almost rude to leave Bandar Seri Begawan without trying Ambuyat, the signature dish of Brunei. Ambuyat is a sticky, starchy paste eaten more for its texture than its flavour (as it has very little). This local favourite is made by pouring hot water into the starch derived from the trunk of the rumbia tree. It is eaten using a two-pronged bamboo utensil and dipped in one of the many local fruit sauces.
For the ultimate Bruneian food experience, wander the Gadong Night Market and sample as many dishes as possible. The food here is cheap and cooked fresh, but be prepared to eat standing up. For a relaxed, sit-down dining experience, head to the collection of outdoor restaurants located on the waterfront in the southeastern corner of the city.
Brunei’s premier shopping destination is the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex. Though a mouthful to say, this grand complex is well worth a visit - not just for the great shopping but also for the charming mixture of modern and traditional architecture. Shoppers will enjoy department stores, designer fashion boutiques and specialty stores, while taking in views of Kampung Ayer to the east and the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque to the west.
To understand how the locals shop, pay a visit to the Kg Kianggeh Open Air Market. With mostly fresh produce and seafood on offer, this is more an experience than a shopping opportunity. The smiling locals, colourful spices and riverside setting of the Kg Kianggeh Open Air Market make it a true photographer’s paradise. The markets operate daily until about 3pm.
Market shopping continues into the evening at the famous Gadong Night Market, held every night from 5pm to 11pm. In contrast to Kg Kianggeh, where locals go to buy fresh ingredients for their own cooking, the Night Market is focussed more on cooked meals. The best way to approach it is with a pocket full of Brunei dollars, an empty belly and an open mind.