Recently, mostly because of this new venture we are on, my mind has been on all sorts of alcoholic beverages. But then it struck me, how come the talk is always about wine or spirits that are made by the peoples of the Northern hemisphere? Is it because the people who lived in changing seasons needed to brew and distill beverages that kept them warm during the winter? Is that why no one is celebrating and consuming Southeast Asian wine and spirits? Or is it a matter of taste or marketing?
This then led to the question of what Southeast Asia's wine and spirits may be in the first place. Singapore not having many people live here before the British doesn't have it's own history of alcoholic drinks. But in nearby Borneo, the indigenous people have been making home made rice wine called tuak and tapai for their communal gatherings and harvest festivals since pre-colonial times.
In the Philippines, similar rice wines were made and were similarly called tapay but could also be made from cassava or even potatoes. The most popular though is Tubâ which is made from various species of palm trees including the Nipa palm whose attap seeds in our ice kacang we love so much. Incidentally, not that you need to know, but the Filipinos also make Tubâ from the Fishtail palm (whose fruits were used to make a brown syrup or jaggery by pretty much everyone in the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia before sugar took over).
This is also true of Cambodia where palm wine is consumed as "toeuk thnaot" (palm water) and is sold around the villages of Cambodia in wooden cylinders on the back of bicycles. And just like the rest of Southeast Asia, Cambodia’s rice wine, or "sraa" in Khmer is related to Japan’s "sake" and Korea’s "cheongju"but is drunk as much for celebrations as it is for traditional medicines.
Along the same Mekong Delta, Vietnam traditional liquor is distilled from either glutinous or non-glutinous rice and apparently there is a local brand Sơn Tinh which won two silver medals at the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) in 2011. But I think part of the problem now is, to get internationally recognised, you need to know how to pronounce all these names.
Then again, if you don't know French you will also have a hard time remembering any of the French brands. But as we are still very much under the long shadows of colonial rule, this means we are still more familiar with many European languages than we are of our own neighbouring Southeast Asian languages. But if economic power means influence, does that mean every nation will know some Mandarin Chinese by the end of this new decade? Probably. And here we go again, history repeats itself and there is nothing new under the sun.