Whenever I’m in Miri for the weekend, chances are a bunch of us will make a road trip up to Brunei. Why, do you ask? Besides being known for future limb chopping, stoning (not the good kind) Syariah laws, oil & gas, and a Sultan with a penchant for premium automobiles; it has arguably the best place for good Japanese grub in Borneo, which is Kaizen.
Usually we’ll only head up to Seria, which has the closest Kaizen branch, and an approximate 40-60 minutes drive from Miri. But today, I’m planning to visit my good friend, whom was kind enough to bring us for a grand tour of his home town, and to the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan.
After an arduous 2 hour drive, we arrived at his home, and with much haste, made our hungry way to a local kopi thiam (or coffee shop) called “Chop Jing Chew”.
It was pretty obvious that it’s a local favourite, and packed with Brunei-ans of all races. Not much sign of the dreaded Hudud law, with most folks clad in regular clothing and shorts. In any case, people are here for the food, and this place did not disappoint.
Our favourites were the Roti kuning kacang, or yellow bun with peanuts. It was the cafe’s signature yellow bread, which was freshly baked in the morning, and stuffed with kaya, a slab of cold butter, and lots of crushed peanuts. This Bruneian kaya bread rendition was quite different from Kaya in Thailand, but the bread was fresh with a nice warm crust, and a soft, fluffy interior. This paired well with the cold kaya and butter, and the peanuts added a nice salty crunch to it.
Our other favourite was the Seama, which is like the Malaysian chee cheong fun (rice noodles), a spicy and sweet soya mix akin to Indomee, chunks of tofu, and fried breaded fish. It was pretty similar to the version in Penang, but had a nice spicy kick to it.
Next we had the Roti kuning kawin, which is toasted bread with kaya and butter. It was decent, but honestly I still prefer the Roti Kahwin in Kota Kinabalu. If you’re never been there, book your flight now, drive to Fook Yuen and order the Roti Kahwin and Teh C Ping (Iced milk tea). By the way, you’re welcome.
What a great start to the morning! With our bellies happily satiated, off we went for a river cruise around Kampung Ayer, which the tour guide had claimed was the largest river village in the world. Not too sure about that little nugget, but damn, it did make me realize how many palaces and gold plate domed mosques our oil rich neighbour had built. It doesn’t have the historical significance or beauty of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, or Palacio Nazaries in Alhambra, but it was certainly ginormous.
All that sitting about in a speed boat got our appetites going, and it was due time for Kaizen.
Fair warning, as this may not be the best place for fantastically fresh sashimi, especially after you’ve made a recent trip to Tsukiji market in Tokyo, and anywhere in Japan for that matter. What they do well are the sushi platters, cooked options, and even serves up Natto i.e. fermented soybeans, if that floats your boat.
We liked the Spicy Salmon Inari, which has chunks of spicy salmon and rice served in a tofu vessel. Despite being rather tame with the spice (like most of Japanese cuisine), it was a good starter to the meal.
I had to order Tori Karaage, which is hard to go wrong with especially if you have a hankering for fried chicken. Albeit Kaizen serves this dish sans the typical Japanese Mayonnaise.
Next, was the tofu steak, served with fried egg cooked in a sizzling pan, sweet soya sauce, and topped with some fried garlic and spring onions as a garnish. This was a decent option, although wished it was served just a tad warmer.
Ooooo, and you must order the Avocado shakes here. This creamy concoction was absolutely brilliant after traversing about in a hot day, and allegedly healthier with the addition of the Avocado. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Now, with our cravings satisfied, time to head to Supasave to purchase some groceries, and make our merry way back to our adopted home. Once you smell the burnt ash permeating the air and filling up your alveoli, you know you’re back in glorious Miri! Huzzah!
As one final note, for those who are worried about the newly implemented Syariah / Hudud laws, as long as you don’t wear hot pants, your birthday suit, or any other offensive clothing (or lack thereof), you should be fine. I won’t say too much about the political situation, but all I’ll say is that one shouldn’t judge or punish the wonderful citizens for the actions of their rulers. So go forth and enjoy the wonderful, delicious bounties that their land has to offer!
Chop Jing Chew – Simpang 5, No. 10, Jalan Gadong, 1/2km, Bandar Seri Begawan BE4119, Brunei +673 242 4132. Google Map