What comes to mind when you think of Bruneian cuisine? Dadah Tahai? Ikan Ampap? Umai Bubuk?

Image: The Bruneian
Image: The Bruneian

Family-run restaurant Nasi Talam pays homage to the much-loved Bruneian dishes, featuring comfort food inspired by childhood memories and a myriad of vibrant local flavours.

Stepping inside the newly-opened eatery tucked in the heart of Kiulap, diners will be transported away from the hustle-bustle of the city, thanks to its warm and cosy ambiance.

Every aspect found in the restaurant are well thought out; from the menu to the furniture, everything is designed to give a sense closer to home.

Image: The Bruneian

Opened in early February, the restaurant is fast becoming a favourite dining spot among local foodies for its truly Bruneian experience.

The birth of Nasi Talam

Image: The Bruneian
Image: The Bruneian

The idea behind “Nasi Talam” which means meals served on a platter, started when siblings Dona Eldeyana Hj Johan, Nazdeny Hj Johan and Md Farkhan Hj Johan simply wanted to expose local cuisine and preserve the legacy of their family dishes that they had the fortune to enjoy since childhood. 

Chairman of Nasi Talam Dona Eldeyana Hj Johan said that there was so little exposure to Bruneian food on the global stage. 

The dream, she added, was to put Bruneian cuisine on the map by starting with the opening of Nasi Talam restaurant.

Image: The Bruneian

“During Hari Raya celebrations when you visit your grandparents’ house, they serve you with these comforting unique dishes such as ikan ampap and liking that you don’t find in restaurants. To some, they are identified as “kampung” dishes, when they are actually Bruneian cuisine,” said Dona.

Dona, who is not a chef by trade, has a strong appetite for cooking and a passion to share it with her family, friends and strangers alike. 

Growing up, cooking comes naturally to her; she learned to cook by watching her late mother and grandmother prepare dinner for her family.

Not only does she create every meal with passion as her main ingredient, but each dish on the menu holds a personal story to her.

“I remember our grandmother used to make lalap (local beef jerky) from scratch. Her house always smelled like lalap. She would cut them and make them into soup. I still try to grasp that memory of how it tasted. The meat was always so tender,” she reminisced.

Image: The Bruneian

She further said that the most important secret to a good home-cooked meal comes from passion and and that the simplest of ingredients make customers appreciate the flavours even more.

Image: The Bruneian

“You want customers to understand the dish. Flavour is important but so is the food’s original taste, I always make sure the spices and ingredients are subtle enough not to overpower the actual natural taste of the meat or food,” said the entrepreneur.

Juggling three other businesses, a full-time corporate job and also raising a family all at the same time, Dona still finds time at the restaurant, sharing cooking and life lessons with her employees. 

What’s under the tudung saji

Image: The Bruneian
Image: The Bruneian

Nasi Talam restaurant dishes up a truly memorable and harmonious dining experience of the beloved Bruneian dishes with most of the recipes inherited from family members. Expect notes of asam jawa, kunyit, lemongrass and curry leaves.

Lovers of spice and all things nice will find themselves feeling right at home with a menu that celebrates flavours and ingredients from the vibrant culinary heritage of Brunei – from their Pari Tumpah Kari to the classic Sayap Goreng Rempah.

The highlighted dish of Nasi Talam is undoubtedly their Sup Kari Tulang, a dish that perfectly combines the aromatic beef-flavoured broth and the savoury spices of the curry resulting in a unique, earthy strong flavour. It is no wonder it is a favourite among customers.

Image: The Bruneian

Their signature dish Mee Keriting Kantin is also a favourite among customers. A simple dish that could take you back to your childhood days at school with its nostalgic and hear-warming flavour.

Moreover, the popular dish the Rendang Maisiti is ode to her own heritage and family traditions. 

Dona recreates the traditional beef rendang with her own personal twist, taking inspiration from the aromas of her family’s kitchen.

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The meat is incredibly tender from it being stewed slowly in spices, giving the dish an explosion of flavour. 

Even with a variety of everyday menu, Nasi Talam tries to create different specials daily in an effort to keep things exciting and fresh for the customers.

Captivating on the inside

Located on the first floor of the Impiana Jaya Complex in Kiulap, the decision for the restaurant came after the siblings noticed its strategic location, adding that the arterial area of Kiulap is characterised by retail, corporate and residential areas.

Image: The Bruneian
Image: The Bruneian

Upon entering the eatery, although modern in design, Nasi Talam evokes a warm feeling of nostalgia, with an interior that blends minimalism and traditional elements set against a neutral, muted tone background.

Inside, one’s eyes instantly met with the traditional architectural touches including the vintage-looking windows and textured rattan walls reminiscent of the old kopitiam.

Image: The Bruneian

Family-friendly is what the restaurant is all about; it is perfect for gatherings and celebrations with the dining area can accommodate more than 50 patrons. 

Moreover, the restaurant also has a cosy private room for customers who want to have private dining with family and friends.

The siblings also wanted to create an environment that evokes the feeling of being right at home, so they added the “pantaran” (elevated platform) where customers could sit on the floor while enjoying a good meal together.

Image: The Bruneian

The most characteristic aspect of Bruneian culture is that meals are often consumed together with family, continued Dona.

Image: The Bruneian

Traditionally, families would dine together on the floor and food would be served on a “talam” or banana leaves, which inspired the name of the restaurant.

“It was how our parents and grandparents used to serve food on “talam” and have meals together. It resonated with what we wanted the restaurant to be, a Bruneian family-rooted restaurant,” she explained.

Image: The Bruneian

The entrepreneur added: “Bruneians are all about family. Everything you want to do; you want to do it together. My family is my greatest influence and also the driving force behind the restaurant”.

For the restaurant’s future plans, Dona and her siblings are keen to expand the menu and identify new locations around the country and abroad. 

Image: The Bruneian
Image: The Bruneian

This article was first published on March 13, 2021 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 132

The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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