Like most cultures in this world, the local peoples of Borneo have found ways to transform their staple-food into alcohol, and none of the worst!
The Kadazan People near Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s Capital, make lihing (Kadazandusun for Rice-Wine), and nothing but ‘pulut’ (glutinous rice rich in sugar), and natural yeast, called ‘sasad’ made from rice, enter the preparations. Sometimes, lihing is referred to as hiing (certain Dusun languages), and others call it kinomol, segantang, kinarung, kinopi, linahas, and even tapai. They are all different (but always fermented, rice-based) beverages. Tapai proper is actually wine made from the tuber of the cassava plant, the preferred party drink of the Murut. To add to the confusion, the Iban of Sarawak call their rice-wine tuak, which must not be confused with Sabahan talak, which is rice-alcohol (arak in Malay). There are many ways of preparing rice-wine, and many taboos are to be observed, but recipes and taboos vary from region to region. A generally applicable recipe is given here below, the way the Kadazan of the Penampang area make their famous lihing.
a) 1 gantang (ca 3.5 kg) pulut cooked ‘al dente’, with just enough water. It is important that the rice is not overcooked, as this would spoil the taste of the wine.
b) Once cooked the rice is spread on a mat, or on a tray called ‘kohintung’, and allowed to cool.
c) When the rice is not too hot any more (you can touch it without burning your fingers), the yeast, pounded and ground to a fine powder, is added. The whole is thoroughly mixed and transferred to a jar (a plastic bucket with a fitting lid will do the trick, too).
Traditionally the jars are washed, and scrubbed inside with guava leaves. Before rice enters they are thoroughly dried. The jar is sealed with banana or tarap leaves (or, nowadays, with plastic bags and a rubber band).
Many taboos have to be observed during the making of rice-wine. Thus, one is not allowed to swear or fight during the cooking process, or to talk bad and loudly. It is said that if one does, the finished product will induce the drinkers to to the same. Other taboos are connected to practical hygiene, such as the rule that one cannot touch lemons or any other sour thing during preparations. This could turn the wine sour. Hygiene is paramount, and in olden days often the whole family was banned from the house when mother prepared rice wine.
A piece of charcoal, or a small knife called pa’is is usually placed on top of the jar with the fermenting rice, to prevent bad spirits from entering the recipient and spoil the wine – lihing, being an entirely natural wine, will turn into vinegar when left exposed to air.
After two weeks, one can insert a bamboo straw into the rice, and add a little water to the slightly fermented mash. The thus served lihing is called sosopon, or siopon. If left to ferment for one month or longer, one needs to drain (manganaas) the wine and drink it from traditional bamboo cups called suki. The Kadazan make a rice-wine filter from bamboo (tataas), which is inserted into the jar and he wine is scooped out.
The wine ages very well in its jar, and one can keep it for several years. Some people even burry their jars, and at very special occasions open the wine, which by then has the amber colour of an old sherry, and about 22% vol., the highest degree of alcohol one can achieve by natural fermentation.
After fermentation and drainage of the wine the remaining mash is often distilled to extract talak.
Rice wine is served during all festivities, and in most rites of passage. However, most rice-wine flows during the harvest festival. If you are offered a cup of rice wine, it would not be nice to refuse, and one expects that you down it in one go. The cup will then go round and round. Sometimes there are even drinking contests, but please don’t take more than you can, and never drink and drive! Aramai’tii!
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