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Beef Rendang – Brunei National Dish – Day 42/Dish 23

February 18, 2010

My ears are throbbing from the last night in the Copacabana clubs.  My mouth is dry and my eyeballs are swimming from the Caipirinhas that the beautiful bartenders kept serving up.   But if those factors ever stopped a sailor, world commerce would grind to a halt.  Our next destination is under Sharia law so our access to distilled spirits is limited and some drying out might occur.

Brazil was amazing but we have to get going because Brunei is on the other side of the planet.  Today we sail south and east around the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean and between the Indonesian Islands of Java and Sumatra, where we stopped for lunch and a fresh cup of some of the worlds’ finest coffees, that is those first approved by the Civet Cat, the worlds’ only four legged Barista.  From there it is a short sail to the Island of Borneo, which is in the Indonesian Archipelago but is territorially divided between Malaysia, Indonesia and our destination,  Brunei.  Brunei is a small nation located near the northeast portion of the island. 

Brunei is officially called, The State of Brunei Darussalam or my favorite country name, Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace; more on that later.

In keeping with a penchant for long names, the capital city and the place we come to port is called Bandar Seri Begawan.  To risk overplaying the long names issue, the leader of this nation is His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, and that will be the end of that line of thought.

Brunei was a sultanate with strong regional power in the 14th to 16th centuries.  It was influence from Europe that brought about the decline of the Empire.  But it was a fight with the White Rajahs of Sarawak that reduced the nation to its current size and its geographic division into two separate areas. 

Brunei declared independence from England in 1984 after nearly 100 years of Colonial influence.  England helped suppress a revolt against the Sultan in 1962.  After forming the constitution in 1959 and after the revolt, His Majesty has total executive power including emergency power.  Brunei has technically been under martial law since that time.  Yet it is officially called The Abode of Peace.  Is this irony or economically spurred coincidence? 

Brunei is an oil rich nation.  Nearly half of its GDP is from oil and natural gas deposits.  This resource boon has led to fast development and stable economics.  Bruneians are long living, literate and well to do by the standards of the region.  Brunei is considered a developed nation and within Southeast Asia is bested by only Singapore on the UN founded Human Development Index.  All medical expenses and various subsidies are covered by the government.  With a population of only 400,000 and a high GDP, it is easier to understand where the term “Abode of Peace” originated. 

Brunei’s government has launched several initiatives to become more food independent including a program to increase domestic rice production and exports.  Another interesting food related trivia fact is the Brunei Halal Brand Program.  This initiative allows producers that meet Halal standards, or safe for Muslims food products, to use the Brunei Halal Brand logo to help increase their imports into other largely Muslim countries.  Halal is an important term for global foodies to know as it affects nearly 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.  It means, an object or act that is safe to engage in under Shariah or Islamic Law, the opposite of haraam.  This link will provide specific info for those interested in Halal food, but if you cook global cuisine, you will come upon the term and it is good to know something of its meaning. 

Todays dish is our first official departure from national dishes.  As I mention in the blog, National Dish is a loose term that can be applied to any number of dishes, or to none at all.  In this case, the national dish of Brunei is called Ambuyat and is not something  I can acquire the ingredients for locally.  Follow this link to learn about Ambuyat.    So I have chosen another dish called Beef Rendang.  Beef is generally considered Halal and can be found in many forms in Islamic Cuisine. Beef Rendang draws on the influences found in the incredibly diverse Indonesia.  With over 700 living languages spoken here, you can imagine the diversity of this incredible region.  Rendang originated in the Minangkabau area and is traditionally served at holidays.  It is popular in Malaysia and Singapore as well as throughout Brunei.

I give this dish a 3 for difficulty due to regional ingredients (Find a Thai Grocery or Chinese possibly) and prep time.  Notice the recipe says “best the next day after the spices set”.  This is common in one pot meals where the flavors need to fully blend and infiltrate the meat and liquids before you get the best effect.  Stews and crock pot meals also share this characteristic. In our case we do not have the time to wait and so we will have to risk it… 

POSTSCRIPT: If this is better on day two, I will eat my shoes.  This is a heavenly recipe that isn’t very attractive, but will blow you away with flavor.  I definitely recommend grinding the coconut to a flour consistency.  I did not and that was the only negative.  I ground it to a coarse flour consistency and although I liked it, it was gritty for my guests.  Again, you can locate most of the ingredients at an Asian Grocery store.  If you love food, explore the ethnic groceries in your town.  You will be thrilled to learn about new ingredients or to find hard to locate ingredients without difficulty.  Gala’ngal for instance can be subbed for ginger, as it is a Asian variety of ginger.  However, there is no comparison to the real thing.  It has unbelieveable qualities that should thrill you.  Keffir lime leaves are another “no good substitute” ingredient that can be faked, but only at the expense of flavor…


Appearance:  2 out of 5

Aroma: 5 out of 5

Flavor: 5 out of 5

Total: 12 out of 15



100g (1 cup) freshly grated coconut or 3/4 cup (60g) dried unsweetened coconut

12-15 dried chilies, cut into lengths and deseeded

15 shallots, peeled

3/4 inch fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

3/4 inch fresh galangal root, peeled and sliced

3 stalks Lemongrass. Thick bottom third only, other discarded

1/2 inch fresh turmeric root, peeled and sliced or 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 lb topside or stewing beef cut in bite sized pieces

2 1/2 cups thick coconut milk

1 cup water

3 tbsp tamarind juice

1 turmeric leaf (torn)

2 Kaffir lime leaves, torn

2 teaspoon sugar

1-2 tsp salt


Dry fry the grated coconut on low heat in a wok until golden brown, about 10 minutes for fresh coconut and 5-7 minutes for dried coconut.  Allow to cool slightly, then grind the coconut in a mortar or blender to a powder. Set aside.

 Soak the dried chilies in warm water for 10-15 minutes to soften. Then deseed and drain. Grind the chilies, shallots, ginger, galangal, lemongrass and turmeric to a smooth paste in a mortar or blender, adding a little coconut milk if necessary to keep the blades turning.

 Place the beef together with the ground paste, coconut milk and water in a wok and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef is tender, about 60-75 minutes. Add a little water if the sauce threatens to dry out before the beef is cooked. By this time, the liquid would have mostly evaporated and the coconut oil should be visible.

 Add the ground coconut, tamarind juice, turmeric leaf, kaffir lime leaves, sugar and salt, and stir-fry for 5 minutes.

Serve with rice. This dish is actually best the next day after the spices have set.

This serves 4.

Recipe C/O Yushing Foo 

Today’s recipe is brought to us by the Twitterverse.  My friend Yushing Foo kindly offered her assistance on recipes from today’s country.  And so I took her up on it and this is the result!  If you are on twitter, please follow her at .  She writes a fun movie blog at  Check her out!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink
    February 18, 2010 12:56 pm

    Eric, I have enjoyed versions of this from Taipei to Beijing, to DC, to New York, to a beach in Nusa Dua on Bali…it is one of my very favorite dishes, and has become one of MY comfort foods. Try it with just cocnut milk next time – results are just as good, and do it overnight in a crock pot. Thanks for this, JC and I will have for dinner tonite!

  2. Jihad permalink
    February 18, 2010 12:57 pm

    The flavors in this dish were so complex. It really was amazing. We will be keeping this one on file to eat again! Thanks my talented hubby!

  3. February 18, 2010 2:24 pm

    awesome concept for a blog. i’ll be reading! thanks!

  4. Widya Limantara permalink
    February 20, 2010 5:31 am

    cool, I love rendang very much, but never seen like the Brunei style before,
    you should try our South Borneo food sometimes!!

    • February 20, 2010 1:27 pm

      Hi Widya,

      I would love to try it. Hopefully in South Borneo! I have been as close as Singapore twice, but never to Borneo. Soon I hope!


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