Tuak, a traditional Sarawakian rice wine, has come a long way from just being a drink used in Dayak rituals and festivals, and as a welcome drink for guests at longhouses.
For this family in Kuching, tuak has been a part of their lives for 130 years. Now, the family is sharing their tuak creations with the rest of the world via an Instagram shop.
“It wasn’t our family’s main source of income, let alone a small business at first—just a recipe and daily preparation in the family that we all loved and passed down,” Martiana of Tuak By The Rasa Family (The Rasa) shared with Vulcan Post.
“Over the years, we’ve been lucky to have regular customers who offered to pay us for our family’s signature drinks. With that, my parents saw an opportunity to sell more among their friends.”
Let the Gen Z do the talking
Though Martiana’s parents saw an opportunity to monetise their family recipe, they’d always stuck to selling through word of mouth or WhatsApp to neighbours, family members, and friends. But as someone with experience in online businesses, Martiana convinced her family to take the next step.
While she handles taking orders, marketing, designing, and packaging, her grandma is in charge of the tuak production.
“My grandma is a pretty private and traditional person. Starting The Rasa online was quite nerve-wracking for her as she didn’t trust the internet, nor was she into the idea of purposely buying new packaging for her goods since she sold them with empty wine/liquor glass bottles that she already had at home,” Martiana shared.
But Grandma Rasa has never been one to step down from a challenge. In her childhood, she was the eldest and only sibling who never had the privilege of going to school, and was the mother figure to her 6 siblings.
Later, she was a single mother to her own 3 children after the passing of her husband. At the time, she was a dental nurse at a government hospital who also sold tuak as a side hustle, starting in her late 20s.
Since she’s 75 now, she boasts over 40 years of experience in making tuak the tried-and-true way. Until today, she still prefers doing everything by hand, foregoing the modern blender to use her trusty pestle and mortar instead.
“She says electrical appliances don’t always work great and being a strong woman in her Christian faith, she always says, ‘God gave you two hands, use them’,” Martiana explained.
Another tradition that Grandma Rasa holds close to her heart is to never open the bucket lid to check and taste the tuak to see if it’s fermented well or not. This was a challenge for Martiana who prefers taking control of her craft. Additionally, tripping or swearing around the tuak is strictly prohibited as well in their family.
Owing to her traditional ways, Grandma Rasa doesn’t believe in using heating or cooling appliances in the process either. And because the humidity is something they don’t really have control over, this can lead to batches of “failed” tuak.
Nothing that Grandma Rasa seems too bothered by though, it seems. “If we’re lucky, we’re lucky,” Martiana echoed what her superstitious grandma would usually say.
Utilising hyperlocal ingredients
From the family’s observation, modern-day tuak can come in many fruity flavours such as pineapple, grape, and rosella, but they continue to make it in the traditional Bidayuh way.
The Rasa’s tuak is made in batches of 2 big buckets. These fill about 30 to 35 large bottles, and each batch of tuak takes about 4 weeks to produce. As much as possible, they source ingredients hyper-locally.
They use handmade yeast from their aunt-in-law in Bintulu who will ship it over, while the ginger and pandan leaves are harvested from Grandma Rasa’s own garden.
If you’re someone who likes your alcohol sweet, tuak may be something you’d enjoy. Grandma Rasa’s tuak isn’t made to get one drunk; it’s supposed to give one’s body a nice warm feeling, so the alcohol is suitable even for beginner drinkers.
Though rice wines don’t usually have bubbles or fizz, theirs do, which is why Martiana likens their tuak to champagne. In essence, you can expect The Rasa’s tuak to have a slight fizz, sweetness, and a bit of spice from the ginger.
They come in 2 sizes, 350ml and 700ml, and retail for RM28 and RM42 respectively. Since their inception in late May 2021, they’ve sold over 100 bottles of tuak.
Bridging generational differences through tuak
Despite having their own ways of working with things, this business has opened up both Grandma Rasa and Martiana’s eyes to their respective worlds. Grandma Rasa is finally trusting the internet more, and Martiana herself is more in tune with her own native culture and traditions.
“Growing up, my grandma and I could never see eye-to-eye on things. I wasn’t very proud of being half Bidayuh either because my siblings and I were always teased for being ‘anak orang putih’ (literally ‘white people’s child’) because we usually spoke English at home and weren’t very fluent in the Bidayuh language compared to now,” Martiana reflected.
“But for the past few years, I’ve grown to appreciate our culture and tradition. And now, I usually just let my grandma do her thing and work her own magic.”
The Rasa certainly isn’t the only tuak producer around, but what may catch the eyes of many would be the rich story behind the family business that Martiana doesn’t shy away from proudly sharing online.
To add, there’s certainly a charm to knowing that the tuak you’re enjoying is the product of a humble, 75-year-old grandma who leaves the success of her creations up to luck after the hard work is done.
- You can learn more about Tuak By The Rasa Family here.
- You can read about more Malaysian startups we’ve covered here.
Featured Image Credit: Martiana Chia, co-founder of Tuak By The Rasa Family