Here’s a recap of where and what we ate in Brunei.
For a place that isn’t really all that lively, Brunei surprisingly has quite a lot of choices for dining out, especially right at the city center of Bandar Seri Begawan. The stretch of Jalan Sultan approaching the waterfront has restaurants sitting side by side, serving dishes ranging from traditional Malay, to Chinese, to Indian, and so on.
Along this stretch is a restaurant that’s been getting quite good reviews on the net, and it’s called Caffe Vito. The name may sound something like an Italian inspired coffee shop, the kind where you sit all afternoon with a cup of coffee and some pastries, but – uhmmm – it isn’t really. You, can sit there all afternoon of course, if you’d like, but it’s a place where you get a full, hearty meal. They have a quite wide and varied “international” menu, touching on most of the familiar cuisines from both the eastern and western halves of globe. Apart from some traditional dishes from than “Malayan” world, one can find everthing from the noodles of Thailand to fish and chips of England, and items from all the other places in between.
The restaurant is a little “spartan” – they don’t even have air conditioning, but the food is as good as it’s reputed to be, and you don’t come anywhere close to breaking a leg to pay for it. And though it’s not really a place for those on a true “culinary adventure”, Caffe Vito is a good and safe option, even for the most picky travellers (except if you’re looking for air conditioning).
So why in the world would McDonalds come up in an article that’s supposed to be about local food? Is there any place in the world where McDonalds could be called local? Nope!
The big M is so ubiquitous, that you would find a place where McDonalds barely exists as…uhmmm..weird. But that’s exactly what you’ll see in Brunei…only one….as in one, McDonalds shop in the entire country.
That’s not to say they don’t like fast food though – you’ll find KFC and Jollibee scattered across many places there. Why there is only a solitary McDonalds outlet there though is as baffling a question to me as “where did all the anti-matter after the big bang go?”.
Be that as it may, we took all the trouble to go to the Gadong to visit Ronald McDonald there. I have been to McDonalds in each of the 10 countries and territories I have been to previously, and I wasn’t going to miss it on the 11th.
The McDonalds there was pretty much the same as what youd expect to see on their stores here in the Philippines, except that chicken there only comes with fries, not rice, and they call it Ayam Goreng (with a bit more pepper), rather than Chicken McDo.
No trip is complete without tasting local fare of course, since travel is an experience for all the senses, including taste. As a largely muslim country though, you can be assured you won’t find pork there though, and instead you’ll find lots of chicken or “ayam” of various kinds in most menus.
I never thought Jollibee – the Philippines’ home grown fastfood chain – had a huge fan base anywhere outside its home country, but apparently the fat smiling bee is big in Brunei as well. If you didn’t know the history of Jollibee, you would think it’s a local food chain there. You’ll find the adorable bee in major shopping areas, and even in the airport.
Their stores are manned by mostly Filipino crew, so “Pinoys” would feel right at home, though a lot of their patrons are locals. Food there has slight variations though, compared to what they serve in the Philippines. Some dishes are a bit spicier (like the spaghetti, which manages to keep its “pinoyness” by the way), and they have items like chicken curry, which are unique to their stores.
And now here’s the real local fastfood chain. Ayamku serves basic fried chicken, but with a distinct “Bornean” twist, served with rice and sidings such as fiery red “sambal” and peanuts, though you could also elect to have your chicken “western-style”, with fries. It’s nothing really special, but if you are looking for a quick hunger relief after a hot, tiring day (and it does get HOT in Brunei), then Ayamku is a safe choice. And, being a popular local chain, I don’t think you’d have trouble finding an outlet.
* We were in Brunei last June 2012. All photos taken with Olympus E420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5.