With Brunei entering the fifth series of COVID-19 de-escalation measures, the Gerai Ramadhan has made a comeback across the country, and the district of Tutong is no exception, hosting over 100 vendors at its main site across the Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah Hospital.

While the site and number of vendors at the Gerai Ramadhan Tutong remains similar to its last edition in 2019, this year’s layout by the municipal department is more spacious to enable distancing protocols between vendors, who pay a rental of $180 to join the month-long event.

The Gerai Ramadhan Tutong has all the food stall staples from fried noodles to smoked and grilled proteins, but the participating vendors also have a unique flair. Here’s a sample of what’s on offer.

Unique yet familiar: Nasi Bakar Cyrol

At a distance, the youth manning stall 21 appear to be selling pulut panggang, a traditional dish of glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaf with sambal-based fillings of either beef, chicken or seafood.

Upon closer view however, you’d realise that it’s way too big.

“Pulut panggang is usually thin; it’s so that you can cook it thoroughly on an open fire. Nasi bakar is different; the filling is cooked separately, then only wrapped with rice and grilled on location; so the flavours (of the filling) and the fragrance (of the leaf) seep into the rice,” says the owner of Lubok Mas Hj Juhari Hj Muda, better known as Cyrol.

The 56-year-old – who has experience in operating restaurants – is running the food stall along with his nephews, offering seven nasi bakar options including chicken, beef and prawn, priced between to $2 to $5.

“We have been selling the Tutong market (before Ramadhan, every Thursday) for the past few months; after the Gerai Ramadhan we plan to open orders for takeaways and catering for events,” he added.

Brunei’s first ayam tajau returns in Tutong

The ayam tajau was a standout at the salai (grilling) section of the Gerai Ramadhan when it first made its debut back in 2013 at HB National Stadium.

Marinated in a blend of traditional spices and cooked slowly in large clay pot or vase, ayam tajau is a Malaysian concept implemented in Brunei by the late Tutong native Hj Md Shukri OKSW Hj Abdullah.

Today his family carry on the tradition – this year in Tutong – continuing the same recipe with each whole chicken priced at $10 and half for $6, which also comes with their own cacah, a soy-based dipping sauce.

“The tajau acts like an oven that ensures the chicken is cooked thoroughly, with the fat from the chicken naturally straining to the bottom, so it is quite healthy as well,” said 22-year-old Mohd Nur’Syairazi Hj Md Shukri.

With a shortage of staff this year, Mohd Nur’Syairazai said they’ve decided to set up in Tutong to be closer to home, and their continued popularity is evident – selling close to 80 chickens a day.

Have it in any size with Baga Penanjong

Nurul Faizah Hj Ahad has been setting up at the Gerai Ramadhan since 2009, but it’s only in 2016 that they got their breakthrough by setting up their trailer stall in Pangkalan Pinang, Penanjong offering burgers starting at a $1 with eggs all the way up to $8 for a giant, nine inch beef of chicken burger.

“We started introducing the king (six inch burger: $4 for chicken/beef) and the giant as a way to offer something different to the standard size burgers you normally find at the gerai,” said Nurul Faizah. The extra large burgers also have their meat and veggie fillings enclosed with a fried egg to keep their shape.

Sugar cane and classics

It’s been a decade that Qawiy Hj Abd Kani and his family have been selling at the Gerai Ramadhan and Perayaan (sales events during His Majesty’s birthday celebrations), preparing freshly squeezed sugar cane alongside traditional kueh (cakes) for Hari Raya and classic porridge dishes.

Despite the increasing price of raw sugar cane leading them to increase their prices by 50 cents to $3 for a 1.5 litre bottle, Qawiy says the drink remains a popular choice, along with bubur kacang (a sweet, bean and coconut porridge) and bubur ubi manis (sweet potato porridge).

“Alhamdullilah we don’t really feel that it has been ten years since we’ve been selling (at the gerai),” said Qawiy, whose family only does business at pop up events. “It is something that we never want to miss.”