Ambuyat: The Gooey Carb Dish from the Bisaya Community of Borneo
Ambuyat, a traditional dish cherished by the Bisaya tribe residing in Sabah, Sarawak, Labuan, and Brunei, holds a special place in the culinary heritage of Borneo. Derived from the starch of the local sago palm, this unique delicacy served as a vital source of carbohydrates in regions where rice and wheat cultivation was limited.
To create Ambuyat, the Bisaya tribe mixes sago starch with boiling water, meticulously whisking it until it transforms into a sticky, gooey, and translucent consistency. However, preparing Ambuyat involves more than just the culinary process. Traditional customs dictate maintaining a tranquil environment, avoiding vulgar words and boisterous laughter, as these are believed to influence the outcome of this revered dish.
Savouring Ambuyat is an intriguing experience. Equipped with a Candas, a bamboo fork resembling thinner chopsticks, one delicately rolls the sticky mixture around its prongs. It is best enjoyed while still warm, as Ambuyat tends to solidify when it cools, altering its texture and mouthfeel.
Ambuyat, on its own, possesses a subtle taste, acting as a blank canvas for an array of delectable side dishes. Grilled prawns, fish, vegetables, and an assortment of tropical sauces and soups are often served alongside, creating a harmonious balance of flavours. The act of sharing a communal bowl of Ambuyat further enhances the sense of togetherness and strengthens bonds within the community.
While Ambuyat originated from the Bisaya tribe, its popularity has transcended cultural boundaries, captivating the taste buds of various indigenous communities in Borneo. Known by different names such as Pinantung, Sagu, or Linut, Ambuyat has become an integral part of their culinary traditions. Moreover, a similar dish named Papeda can be found in eastern Indonesia, reflecting the diverse culinary landscape of the region.
In modern times, Ambuyat is celebrated during special occasions such as weddings and public holidays, offering a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Borneo. While it can be found in ethnic food restaurants across Malaysia, it is in Brunei where Ambuyat enjoys a more prominent presence. In Bruneian households, this delicacy is frequently savoured as a regular meal, particularly when there are skilled Ambuyat artisans within the family. Numerous specialized restaurants have emerged, presenting unique variations like Ambuyat Goreng (stir-fried Ambuyat) to cater to diverse palates.