Rosa and Ryan look after their stall at the bazaar.
TUAK or rice wine is not only a traditional drink synonymous with the Dayak community during celebrations such as Gawai Dayak, but also an essential offering during Dayak rituals and traditional ceremonies, especially for the Iban community.
A ritual would not be complete without a tuak offering, Gawai would be dull without serving tuak, and any Iban or Bidayuh feast would not be the same without the presence of tuak.
The Iban and Bidayuh communities may have different traditions and cultures but they have one thing in common — their love for tuak and their skills in brewing the traditional drink for festive occasions.
There are also other Dayak communities such as the Orang Ulu, who make tuak for their celebrations.
Tuak is basically made from glutinous rice, local yeast balls known as ‘ragi’, and sugar syrup. These three ingredients are mixed and left to ferment in the production process to yield tuak.
Once fermentation is completed, the colour will normally be cloudy and it can be consumed straightaway. But some tuak makers prefer to leave the finished product a while longer until it has become clearer and almost transparent.
Tuak Tumpa comes in different flavours of (from left) purple sweet potato, rice, green tea, pineapple, and barley.
In this modern era, making the drink has become more complicated with the addition of different flavours by innovative brewers. Nowadays, you can find tuak in fruit, flower, and pandan flavours, though the traditional taste is still popular during celebrations.
The amount of sugar and yeast used will determine the alcohol content of the finished product but some tuak makers will add extra ingredients such as fruits like bananas or pandan leaves to give it an interesting twist. The end product will be known as banana tuak or pandan tuak.
Today, there are more tuak flavours being created and these include pineapple, barley, sweet potato, roselle, and even green tea.
Roselle-flavoured Tuak Tumpa comes with the tagline ‘Irup Seteguk Empai Nyentuk’, which roughly translates to ‘you won’t be satisfied with just one sip’.
Creative tuak maker
One of the creative tuak makers is Rosa Injan Taja from Tembawai Tuggung, Lambir in Miri.
The 43-year-old has experimented with a variety of ingredients to create tuak of different flavours, at the same time, retaining the drink’s traditional features, including its preparation method.
“Among the first tuak I made was tuak pandan. It was already popular among the longhouse makers as well as consumers when I first made it. I tried blending in other ingredients to create different flavours, using fruits like bananas, sweet potatoes, pineapples, barley and many others.
“All my tuaks are made the traditional and natural way without using any artificial flavours or preservatives,” she said.
Rosa pointed out that artificial flavourings are not suitable for tuak as they could affect the result of the end product as well as its originality.
“Therefore, all the flavours and colours for my tuak come from real fruits and fresh ingredients,” she told thesundaypost at the recent Miri Gawai Dayak Bazaar.
Rosa said at first she made tuak to pass the time and maintain her interest in preparing traditional Iban food and drinks.
The hobby received an encouraging response from family and friends, motivating her to try out more creative brewing methods.
With family support, she started experimenting with tuak flavours, using fruits. With the right amount of ingredients and fermentation process, Rosa was able produce tuak with potential commercial value and she saw this as an opportunity to earn extra income for herself and her family.
A bottle of pineapple-flavoured tuak.
“I started selling tuak seriously in 2016 and today, my tuak comes in eight different flavours,” she said, adding that she named it Tuak Tumpa, after her late grandfather, who was her inspiration.
Rosa markets Tuak Tumpa through her own company Tumpa General Trading. The flavours are pandan, banana, pineapple, roselle, barley, sweet potato, green tea, and traditional plain rice wine.
“Among the most popular flavours is roselle – not only among the Dayak community but also the Chinese community. A lot of my Chinese customers come back for more after their first purchase,” she noted.
Customers are attracted to the beautiful colour of Tuak Tumpa and its eye-catching packaging. Many stopped to have a look and ended up buying.
“Here, I wish to express my gratitude to the Gawai Dayak Bazaar organiser for providing small traders like myself a platform to expand our business network and market our traditional products,” Rosa said.
A number of visitors were impressed that traditional rice wine could be made in a variety of flavours.
“Those at the bazaar were not only locals but also visitors from Sabah, West Malaysia and Brunei. The most popular flavours for the visitors were roselle, pandan, and sweet potato. They bought these tuaks to take home and share with their friends and family,” she said.
Apart from selling tuak at trade fairs and festive bazaars, Rosa also promotes her products via Facebook and WhatsApp.
“In future, I plan to try new flavours from raisin and dragon fruit,” added Rosa who runs the business with the support of her husband Ryan.