Ambuyat - Gastro Obscura

Prepared Foods


This gooey, starchy gel is Brunei's favorite flavor vehicle.

If you like to play with your food, then ambuyat is the treat for you. Eating this translucent dish, called linut by the Melanau of Sarawak, Malaysia, and ambuyat by Bruneians, requires a sticky, multistep dance. Diners must plunge and twirl a pair of two-pronged bamboo tongs, called chandas (think cheater chopsticks), into the starchy goo so that it sticks to the utensil and can make its way from bowl to dipping sauce to mouth, where it’s slurped down with no chewing required.

To make ambuyat, one simply mixes water with the interior wood pulp from the Rumbia tree. As with most starch, experienced makers will begin by crafting a slurry, first introducing a small amount of water to ensure that the mixture is smooth and free of lumps before hydrating it fully to the proper gelatinous consistency. According to some, this part of the process takes more than physical technique: Stirrers are supposed to put their mind at ease while mixing the pulp so as not to incorporate their own lump-inducing troubles into the mix.

The resulting smooth and stretchy substance, with an almost imperceptibly mild flavor, makes an ideal vehicle for the dipping sauce, or cacah. Most typical is binjai cacah, a sour and spicy combination of lime, onions, garlic, and binjai, a local fruit with a sweet and sour flavor. Some cacahs feature tempoyak, a condiment based on fermented durian.

Served in a large bowl with several chandas, at least one dipping sauce, and dishes of fresh, raw vegetables (called ulam-ulaman) to add some crunch, ambuyat is meant for sharing. Family and friends gather round the stretchy starch, twirling their chandas until they have a soft, bite-sized clump affixed to their utensil, which they dip into the accompanying cacah and deliver to their stomachs with one sweet-and-sour swallow. Like many dipped foods, it’s easy to get into a trance as one goes from bowl to sauce to mouth to crunchy interlude. But for all the clear instructions eating these gluey globules, advice on when and how to stop is mysteriously absent.

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