Seems to me the fashionable sungkai (breaking fast) experience this year is the humble, and not so MIB-compliant, cheese burger.
Burger stalls have mushroomed in Brunei, and some with serious full time chefs involved. This is my take on the local burger scene.
In the spirit of science, the test is "The Sungkai Burger Experience" and I have deliberately aimed for stalls or less formal eateries. Unfortunately due to time and logistics, I was unable at this time to include burgers in other districts. I paid for all my meals and knowing that the burger at the end of day is a very personal experience, I have also provided my own subjective rating. All of the places sampled have informative Facebook pages.
I started with a tweet asking folks online for their Top 3 favourite local fast food burgers. The burgers I then tried and tested were the ones most mentioned. I list them in chronological order of consumption.
The first local fast food burger on my list was Hommed Baga, a play on the words "Homemade Burger". The Hommed Baga stall is in Anggerek Desa, directly across the simpang going into AITI. I called ahead but the telephone number that was listed was unreachable. Later I found out that Hommed Baga management no longer takes pre-orders by telephone due to an incident with an unhappy customer.
The stall itself was an incredibly smoky and a fast paced experience, not a surprise since Hommed Baga seems to be able to handle big orders (also the reason why they find it difficult to handle pre-orders via telephone). Service was the usual Brunei, surly at first but friendly once the ice was broken.
We ordered the Shroom Burger, the Lamb Shroom Burger, Basic Baga, Rush Baga and Da Bomb (the Big Mac of Hommed). It was already 4.25pm and Hommed Baga took on our order of 14 Bagas without flinching, gave us a little key ring with a number on it and asked us to return within half an hour. We drove around little India in Serusop, and promptly returned to more smoke on the clothes as we waited a further 20 minutes for our burgers.
The burgers came with the usual burger add-ons: egg, mayo, ketchup, cheese, tomato. The Da Bomb, was a lot of meat and carb, it came with beef rashers, a nice thought but maybe salty for me. The bun was the best out of all the burger joints tested. No sesame seeds, crusty and not too moist.
The star of Hommed Baga's repertoire is the Shroom Baga. A mix of different mushrooms held together by gooey melted cheese, on top of a medium sized, nicely finished patty.
If Hommed Baga was a car, it would be Toyota Land Cruiser: Big, chunky, Go Anywhere.
Taty's Cafe is a basic cafe, just before Muara Town, on the same row of shophouses as BIBD. It was the only cafe on my list. It had plain wooden tables like those in an old time kopitiam. Easy beach vibe plays on the radio. Rasta coloured curtains covered the entrance to the kitchen. Self affirming scribbles on the walls.
We ordered from a cheerful, spiky haired waiter, the quarter pound lamb burger, quarter pound cheese and the Lady Boss Burger Jr. The Lady Boss Burger was the winner; mushrooms, single beef patty coming together nicely. My preference would be the burgers without the cucumber acar (pickled cucumber) and chilli sauce. The patty was well done, but the bun, unfortunately generic.
Because of its laid-back counter-culture vibe, if Taty's Burger was a car, it would be a Volkswagen minivan (in sky blue).
Santai Burgers are usually found at Cribs Cafe in Serusop, on the row of shophouses just after HSBC. They are currently open for business at the Gerai Ramadhan by the Stadium. A burger joint at a Gerai Ramadhan is pretty much one of a sameness. One can’t beat the atmosphere - there's the crowd, the heat, the smoke, the happy anticipation in the air as people wander round buying food for sungkai.
It was an all girl affair. A row of ladies churning out burgers like a well-oiled machine, the end of the line covering the burger in white waxed paper. I ordered the Sloppy Joe Cheese and The Works. For dessert, churros, from the Filipino ladies at the side.
The winner on the menu to me was the Sloppy Joe with cheese. A beef patty minced on the hotplate with egg and cheese. The bun for Santai was pretty good.
If Santai Burger was a car, it would be a vintage Mercedes Benz saloon, an old school, quirky classic.
Zulfadly, the owner of KaPow Burger is a friend of mine. KaPow has a stall at the crossroads off the highway in Lambak, but can be found at the Gerai Ramadhan at the Stadium. KaPow came onto the burger scene radar after introducing Wagyu Burgers, their big draw. I ordered the same at the Gerai along with a Combo (lamb and beef) and the Super Kapow.
The Wagyu Burger was a good size, pricier at 6 dollars and smaller. It fits in the palm well. It had a nice, albeit generic, white and red paper wrapper held together by a slash of glossy red tape. I liked that effort in design.
The patty was 100 percent beef. The Super Kapow had a touch of pickled cucumber, onions, mayo, ketchup and cheese as toppings. Great beef, let down by the bun.
If KaPow Burger was a car, it would have to be a Lexus, because of the luxurious Japanese breed of cow.
AHOA Burger (the initials stand for Awang Haji Omar Ali) is a stall on Jalan Mulaut. It is just past the surau, heading towards Kuala Lurah. The offerings are simple: lamb, beef, double lamb, double beef. Egg and cheese as extras.
Inside the wire mesh of the stall a crew of four well-drilled kampung boys bash out the burgers with a real spirit of gotong-royong. They were fast and consistent and the service was simple and friendly. Burgers were, at $4.50 for a double, reasonably priced. The patties were homemade and all meat, but the buns were again generic.
If AHOA was a car, it would be the Toyota Kijang: Reliable, simple, fleet of foot, economical. Can get the whole kampung in it.
Finally, Grubs Burger seems to have sprung up in the last week or so, with rave online reviews. I tried to order on Thursday but was told that they stopped taking orders by lunch time. I pre-ordered their entire repertoire from a well-spoken and helpful young lady on the telephone.
Their patties were irregularly shaped, indicating that they have been molded by hand and not by a machine. The beef was well presented, with a nice crisp piece of lettuce and chunky slices of tomato. It reminded me of the fantastic Japanese chain, Freshness Burger. The top of the bun was a nice airy dome, sprinkled with sesame seeds. I'd like to think that thought had been put in into the choice of bun. Burger extras consist of toasted bell peppers, tomato, cheese, mushrooms. Chilli, ketchup, mayo and mustard are sauces of your choice.
If Grubs Burger was a car, it would be a Mini Cooper S: Young, zesty and full of life.
At the end, if I could pick and choose a Dream Team Burger it would have: A KaPow patty, a Hommed bun, with the trimmings of a Grubs Burger, AHOA's and Santai's gotong-royong and Taty's atmosphere.
All in all, it's nice to see these bun-trepreneurs getting out there, doing stuff and putting a local spin on what is now worldwide cuisine.
Illustration by Cuboi Art.
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