(Published by The Culture Trip. All rights reserved.)
As the capital of the Sultanate of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan’s culinary scene has been a relatively late developer. However, it is an exciting time for dining in the city, with new Asian fusion restaurants, local delicacies and the vibrant food markets that are so popular amongst the locals of the city. Discover the city’s food in all its bold and bizarre glory, from pizza pancakes to murtabak and Brunei’s most ‘sinful’ eatery.
Lim Ah Siaw
Despite being found in the far from idyllic surroundings of a pork market, a trip to Lim Ah Siaw always feels like an illicit and decadent adventure. It’s forbidden to raise pigs in Brunei, and so the pork-heavy menu of this restaurant has led to many bloggers calling this restaurant the most haram (sinful) eating place in all of Brunei. Haram it may be, but delicious it certainly is, with customers coming for the reputation but staying for the pork buns, dumplings and stunning braised pork dishes. Well worth a visit, but perhaps don’task too many people for directions to it…
Although notoriously difficult to find, the i Lotus is a restaurant well worth hailing a taxi for and tracking down, for it is one of the best places for fine dining in Bandar Seri Begawan and its surrounding areas. About five miles outside of the city centre in an old converted house, i Lotus serves upmarket Chinese cuisine that is tellingly popular with the Chinese émigrés and visitors of Brunei both for the quality of its specials like its ‘special coconut prawn’, served in a coconut, and for the authenticity of its wider menu. The restaurant serves a wide variety of meat and fish dishes perfect for those looking for the best Chinese in Brunei.
What separates this branch from others in the Kaizen chain is its design. First thing to notice about this riverside Kaizen is its wonderful building, a playful modern update of traditional Asian buildings, inspired by bamboo structures. It could house a very contemporary art space or gallery, but instead is home to what was quickly agreed to be the best Japanese food in the city, with an extensive menu including almost every kind of sushi imaginable as well as a teppanyaki bar, private dining area and, of course, some of the best views in Brunei across the harbour and fisherman village.
Kaizen Sushi, Kompleks Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Jalan McArthur, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, +673 222 6336
Pondok Sari Wangi
Since its first restaurant in BSB was founded in 1990, Pondok Sari Wangi has had a fantastically successful two decades, opening branches across the city serving versions of its much-loved Indonesian fare. The original site is still the best of them all, however, with both its early evening buffet and later à la carte menu serving the best of Indonesia on a plate (or, in the case of the Indonesian buffet, inevitable multiple plates!). The other PSWs are also worth tracking down, for each restaurant offers delicious signature dishes exclusive to that particular branch.
Pondok Sari Wangi, Simpang 37, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei +673 244 5043
Noralizah & Iskandar House of Curry
Known variously as roti, roti canai, roti prata or perhaps most popularly as murtabak, these stuffed breads or pancakes are the absolute staple street food of Bandar Seri Begawan and Brunei in general, and nowhere does them better than the House of Curry. Queues can often be seen snaking out of the doors at peak times for these little parcels of folded goodness (the name ‘murtabak’ means ‘folded’ in Arabic), with the mixed crows containing everyone from students looking for a cheap meal to Brunei’s oldest residents eating the foods of their childhoods. In fact, everything you need to know about the culture of Brunei can be seen in the queue at Noralizah & Iskandar.
Aminah Arif Restaurant
Another staple is the national dish of Brunei, ambuyat. A starchy substance from the sago palm akin to tapioca. It is rolled around the fork and then dipped into sauce, and is an interesting albeit acquired taste. For those who wish to try ambuyat for the first time, or for fans of this porridge-like dish, the best version is made at the city’s Aminah Arif restaurants, of which this one comes the most highly recommended. For those who find this strange dish difficult to love, or for those who like their food with a stronger consistency, they also serve a good selection of rice and noodle-based dishes.
Over the last five years, this venue has gone from a fledgling business to one of the most popular Thai restaurants in the region, with the restaurant often completely full come lunch time with workers from across the city and the office blocks close to Nur Wanita’s location. It is also one of the classier restaurants in the Bandar Seri Begawan, with comfy and stylish interior setting it apart from its more parochial competition. The food is good too, with well-spiced version of all the classic Thai dishes honed through half a decade of those busy lunch shifts.
Nur Wanita, Simpang 181, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, +673 242 6789
Gadong Night Market
A group of restaurants, cafés and vendors serving authentic street foods from across Asia, this is a hugely popular night market perfect for those who want an authentic view of the country and have access to a car (most people take their food away from the market). As well as being culturally fascinating, it is also incredibly cheap, with $5 buying a decent meal from any of the cuisines offered, from Brunei staple foods to great curries and seafood to a whole selection of strange dishes for those with intrepid palates, including cow lungs and other so-called delicacies.
Paddington House of Pancakes
For those looking for more Western food, although definitely a surreal spin on the idea, should try Paddington House of Pancakes. As well as having probably the best interior of any restaurant in the capital, with simple but effective use of a feature chalkboard wall, just having a look at the menu is worth the visit alone. Anything that can logically be put on a pancake will be put on a pancake, and no culinary fusion from any country is left untried, resulting in pizza pancakes and full English breakfast pancakes. Some of these are really delicious, and some are just bizarre, but either way they are well worth a visit.
Paddington House of Pancakes, Jalan Berakas, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, +673 233 1668
Pantai at the Empire Hotel
Housed inside the marble surroundings of the capital’s grandest and most expensive hotel can be found Pantai. One of the many restaurants within the hotel and country club complex, it is finest of the impressive selection. Although it also offers a buffet, the à la carte menu is particularly good, offering gourmet version of Japanese cuisine for its discerning clientele. Also good are its beachfront views, offering particularly spectacular sunsets if it is possible to get a table at that time.
Pantai at the Empire Hotel, Lebuhraya Muara, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, +673 241 8888