Ambuyat is a well-known Bruneian delicacy, but it can be found in neighbouring countries such as Sabah and Sarawak where it is called Linut. A version of the dish can also be found in Indonesia called Papeda.
The dish made from sago (popularly known as ambulong), that is extracted from the rumbia tree. In this modern day, the process of creating sago is made with the help of machines in a factory, but back then it was a long and tedious process.
“Back in the day, everything was processed manually. Sago was created with water from the river and we had to use our bare feet to press out the sago from the Rumbia tree,” said Aning Sinak, 78, who worked in the sago factory many years ago.
After the sago is pressed out from the tree, the sago lumps will be collected and dried by using a woven basket made out of Nipah leaves called Tampin. Now, the factories make use plastic in the sago collecting process.
“In the past, Ambuyat was considered a staple food as it was easier to get sago rather than buy rice. At the time, it was difficult to be obtained,” said Aning Sinak.
That is only one of the accounts that were known on the way Brunei began to eat ambuyat. There is another story where during the Japanese Occupation in Brunei, the general population was faced with hardship and began to eat the ambuyat as their staple sustenance at the time.
According to reports, sago has been part of the Bruneian taste palate for more than 800 years. Although the story of how Brunei discovered ambuyat was never documented, different stories from the locals mentioned that eating the dish became a necessity to survive. The nation was confronting hardship and local people were poor, so sago was utilised to supplant rice as their fundamental eating routine.
To make the delicacy, one will mix the sago with hot water to the point that it is the correct consistency, and the end result is a sticky starch-like substance that resembles glue. The dish is eaten with a candas, which is essentially a conjoined bamboo stick, and dipped into various types of sauces known as cacah.
The sauces can comprise of binjai, fermented shrimp called cincalu, cooked vegetables, fried belutak and other different side dishes that are sweet or sour, depending on the individuals preference. One need to eat ambuyat with different sauces as the dish itself taste bland without any of the sauces.
According to Aning, there are not many differences in the way that ambuyat was eaten in the old days but the sauces varied as they mainly use sardines as the main sauce for the delicacy. This is mainly because modern day sauces were not available at the time.
Presently, there are very little production lines making sago in Brunei, other than one in Kampong Ukong Tutong and Kampong Batu Apoi, Temburong. Bruneians still continue to enjoy the delicacy, and for tourists who visits Brunei, it is an absolute necessity to experiment with this one of a kind dish. It demonstrates the Bruneian culture of sharing, because the ambuyat dish is typically shared between individuals.