Cooking with love

Daniel Lim

If one were to conjure a thought of Brunei’s most well-known cuisine, it is very likely that out of all the traditional cuisine available, everyone would agree that ambuyat fits into the category neatly.

Yet, despite being a staple food that is consumed across the nation, the tradition of not only learning about how to make the viscous and starchy cuisine that is paired with a myriad of mouth-watering condiments, as well as its associated etiquettes that have been passed down for generations, are slowly in the decline.

To combat this, a group of teachers from Sixth Form Centre (PTE) Belait led by the school’s History Section under the Socio Sciences Department launched their first Professional Development (PD) Workshop focussing on ambuyat.

In an interview, PTE Belait Senior Mistress of Administration Jasmine binti Jumat noted how ambuyat has been passed down from generation to generation, and how it started out of necessity during the World War II.

Ambuyat holds a special place in the nation’s history, as it helped support the nation during a time of need when the country experienced a food shortage. By learning about its significance as well as how to properly make it as it was passed down, is one of the many avenues that we can pursue to help preserve our culture and history.”

Ambulung, which originates from Rumbia tree, is one of the main ingredients of Ambuyat. PHOTO: MOHD HAMDILLAH BIN HAJI MOHD YUTAR

While many of the topics touched on by the PD workshop focussed on the history of ambuyat, it also heavily leans towards the teaching how to make ambuyat, from raw ingredients to the finished product.

The practical demonstration on making ambuyat was led by Norhayati binti Haji Landok, who has a small local restaurant that serves the dish.

Norhayati noted that as a local traditional cuisine, ambuyat has evolved from necessity to something that can be enjoyed in everyday life.

“Learning about ambuyat is important not only as a potential food source, but also as an avenue to educate the youth.”

This includes procuring of ambulung, a white flour like powder that is one of the main ingredients of ambuyat, which she explained originates from a Rumbia tree that takes around 12 years to mature.

“The Rumbia trees are then cut down and harvested, which are then pressed and ground to produce the ambulung, which are traditionally packaged in the basket-like tampin. Today, it is packaged in plastic bags,” she shared, adding that many of the tasks are now being made easier with technology.

She also explained that many of the traditional beliefs and sayings for making ambuyat are passed down for generations, which include no laughing, singing or senseless talking, as it was believed that ambuyat created this way would be imperfect.

She also shared an old saying of Makan bagas cacah ambuyat kelak kena cecah-cecahi, which was primarily aimed at girls. The saying aims to ensure that consuming ambuyat is to be accompanied by their condiments, and that if the condiments were to finish before the ambuyat, it would be considered a waste of food.

“There isn’t an enforcement of these rules and beliefs when making or eating ambuyat. It only serves as guide to teach children not to waste food.”

Despite being passed down for generations, she noted that the efforts made in continuing the tradition of producing the ambulung as well as making ambuyat have been on a slow decline, noting that many of them are sourced from overseas.

“I hope that by teaching how to make ambuyat, it will help to continue the tradition, especially towards the youth; as they are now the ones who will pass on the tradition of the nation in the future.”

This sentiment was shared by the PTE Belait Senior Mistress of Administration, who shared that one of the main objectives of the workshop was to disseminate information on the proper ways to make and eat ambuyat, as it is slowly being forgotten into history.

“While ambuyat may not be loved by all, it is still necessary to learn about it and to revisit when ambuyat played a major role in the nation’s history. Most importantly, we need to ensure the proper traditional way to make ambuyat can continue to exist in the future,” she added.