Tuak

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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Tuak (too-wak) is a popular Iban rice wine made from glutinous rice and homemade yeast. It’s normally made for Gawai or the Harvest Festival, held every year on the 1st of June. Traditionally, it’s not commercially made, rather each household would make their own based on a family recipe handed down through generations.

5e5df9a1adad00364c69cd7810c809d6If you visit any longhouse in Sarawak, it’s traditional to be served tuak as a welcome drink. However, be ready, there’ll be several people holding out the glasses as tuak to welcome you, not just one. And as a guest, you’re obliged to drink every glass offered.

 Recently, my sister in New Zealand tried to make her own batch of tuak and I’m happy to report that it almost tastes as authentic as the tuak our mother makes. The difference was the yeast she used and that she replaced glutinous rice with sushi rice.

If you’re ever in this part of the world, go ahead and give tuak a try!

Remembering Gawai days

For Ibans, Gawai is a much-anticipated celebration. Back in Sarawak, celebrating Gawai used to last an entire month and by celebrating, I mean drinking lots of tuak or rice wine. If you’re hardcore about Gawai, you’d forego the tuak and head straight to drinking langkau, tuak‘s less refined sibling. Anthony Bourdain depicted this in an episode of No Reservations much too accurately. 

kampung-stairs
When drunk, these stairs are the most hazardous part of my grandfather’s house. Many men (and women) have stumbled down these 4 steps unfortunately

Typically, in my kampung, there would be lots of food being cooked by the womenfolk in the kitchen of my grandfather’s house. Children would be outside playing, waiting for the meal to be served. The menfolk would be playing cards while drinking tuak/ langkau/ beer/ any alcohol/ definitely not water.

When my grandfather was still alive, the Gawai celebrations were truly memorable. Many years ago when I was back home for Gawai and after a most fulfilling dinner of ayam pansuh (chicken cooked in bamboo) and many other local delicacies I forgot I missed until they’re cooked and served, the chairs in the living room would be pushed to the wall and music and dancing would follow. Mostly it was the older folks who’d start while the young ‘uns looked on and tried not to cringe. I’d be sitting cross-legged on the floor in the living room, in awe at their enthusiasm and energetic gyrations. And there were always violins. After all, keronchong wouldn’t be keronchong without violins. And there was always singing. Or perhaps, more apt, there was a singing competition and it would always end up as a berbalas pantun singing competition with the men and women trying to come up with the most creative tune, lyrics and even insults. If only I had a video camera then…

ayam-pansuh
Cooking meals in bamboo, the original Le Creuset. Somehow, meals cooked on an open fire outdoors always tastes awesome

Another memorable Gawai for me was the year my family purchased three pigs and gave the meat to 106 families in the kampung.

The (poor) pigs were delivered to the main house Gawai eve. Men from the kampung were all ready to begin the butchering. There must’ve been about ten men, many of them I’d not seen before but were friends of my uncle. It was an interesting sight to watch (although slightly `slaughter house-ish’) – the sharpening of knives, the sounds of chopping, the men drinking and smoking, telling jokes, singing as they went about selecting the cuts of meat.

The men finished up by  dividing the meat into 106 individual plastic bags all laid out on a tarpaulin sheet that was placed on the ground next to them. It was an extremely methodical operation as they wanted to ensure that every family had the same amount of meat and also that each bag had a good ratio of ribs to meat. This seemingly simple task took almost 2 hours to complete. The final touch was to tie the plastic bags with raffia string and we added a gift tag that said `Selamat Andu Gawai Dayak’ (Happy Gawai Dayak Day). The men then divided  all the plastic bags among them, filled up their juah or rattan basket and went off in twos on motorbikes to deliver the bags to the families, like santa’s little helpers. It was a good day.

What I’d give for a glass (or bottle) of tuak right about now. And some ayam pansuh too.