Location : Kampung Kiding, Padawan, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.
While the same alcoholic beverage from the palm tree may be known by dozens of different names depending on which part of the world it comes from, in Malaysia it is more popularly known as toddy made famous by Malaysians of Indian origin. Toddy is extracted from coconut palm whereas nyok is from arenga pinnata or ‘ijuk’ palm in the Padawan area. This is probably the original ‘tuak’ before the earlier immigrant Chinese introduced the rice wine technology using yeast. Although the nyok tuak has taken a back seat to the more popular rice tuak, it is still very vibrant in the interiors of the Padawan Highlands. And Kampung Kiding is one of those villages that proudly uphold this traditional indulgence. Mr Bakas the Ketua Kampung (headman) was a very busy man the 3 days we stayed at his house. Busy running to his farm to harvest the nyok sap before it overflowed or bottling it to sell to his villagers. According to his experience timing is everything. The rate of dripping of the sap from the stem of the nyok determines how soon he should be back for subsequent harvests. Bakas is probably one of the few people who has learned to tap nyok in a sensible and sustainable way. Unlike most villages I have trekked into would chop down the whole tree in order to tap from the tree trunk Bakas taps from the cut stem of the maturing inflorescence (cluster of flowers). In that way he does not have to kill the hen for its eggs!
Another trick of the trade which Bakas unselfishly shared was the use of ‘kǔǔn’ (pronounced somewhat like ‘kern’) which is a type of tree bark to stall fermentation and it is bitter in taste. Again the right amount of ‘kǔǔn’ put inside the collecting vessel determines the final quality-too much it becomes bitter, too little it becomes sour. I wonder if ‘tongkat ali’ could do a better job than ‘kǔǔn’!
BTW nyok tuak is not the only byproduct that can be exploited from the same sap. Brown sugar and vinegar production could seriously be considered by Bakas as a business venture in the future.
Meantime he and his gang are more interested in getting the kick out of nyok as it is the only alcoholic drink in this village that has his blessing. In between sips and munching ikan masin he confided he had big NYOK dreams. We wish him every success……yam seng!
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