In the kitchen at the rear end of the house, the floors are lined with newspapers, the pestle and mortar making crisp sounds while pounding. Grandmother Yap Ah Hwa (transliteration) woke up before dawn, busying herself with preparing ingredients to make red rice wine, from her energetic and smooth workflow it’s hard to discover that she is already 72 years old. This is the red rice wine which every single FúZhōunese household brew on their own, an indispensable ingredient in preparing Fú Zhōu dishes, its unique mellowness a key factor in complementing aroma and taste, coating food with a rosy tint, and also symbolizing good luck during festivals. The familiar native taste did not fade away with migration, instead it increased unity, as well as spreading the intense love for red rice wine to community members from other nativities.
Fú Zhōu red rice wine is a type of Chinese rice wine, made up of three simple ingredients: wine yeast cake, cooked glutinous rice, and specialty red yeast rice produced in the Mǐn region in China. The ingredients are mixed together and inserted into an urn, storing in a cool shaded place for the lengthy brewing process. At the end of the fermentation cycle, the liquid extracted from filtration is red rice wine, and the final residue is called vinasse. Red yeast rice is a type of fermented rice which acquires its colour from being cultivated with the mold Monascus purpureus, with health and nutritional benefits in traditional Chinese medicine of promoting digestion and improving blood circulation.
FúZhōunese make up the majority of the population in Chuah, Negeri Sembilan, where every household withholds the custom of brewing red rice wine by themselves, however the recipes and methods used may differ. Some families will insert the ingredients layer by layer; some add in water; some will add red yeast into rice wine and mix evenly; the length of fermentation also ranges, and the resulting taste varies. Grandma Yap (transliteration) who lives in Kampung Baru Sungai Nipah is particular in the ingredients she uses in brewing red rice wine, ensuring good quality and rich taste, which her family and friends enjoy. Initially, the red yeast rice and wine yeast cake are sun dried and finely pounded in advance, the urn being repeatedly washed and thoroughly dried. When brewing red rice wine, the glutinous rice is cooked and let cool overnight. The next day, all ingredients are mixed evenly, poured into a canvas bag, and tied up tightly. Then the urn is sealed and kept in a cool dry place to ferment for at least 75 days.
When she was young, Grandma Yap (transliteration) learned by asking relatives and friends for advice and doing research, experimenting on her own, never once slacking during the preparation and brewing procedures, therefore her brewing method is extraordinarily successful with a high yield. After fermenting for two months and a half, she could reap ten bottles of red wine, compressing the vinasse till it dries up, without wasting even one drop of red wine, and finally keeps the vinasse. Luck is crucial in brewing red rice wine, depending on favourable conditions for a smooth and successful brew. Some people who are having bad luck will be unsuccessful in brewing, or the yield is low and tastes bad. Other precautions and instructions include: from preparing ingredients, to sun drying the urn to expel residing flavours; some are beware of people who attended funerals, pregnant women, women in their confinement, or menstruating women from approaching the red rice wine they brew.
Embarking on a tipsy culinary journey, experiencing an intoxicating lesson in cultural customs. Over the decades, Grandma Yap’s red rice wine became a familiar and unforgettable fondness of her family, an essence of blended native cultures. Treating family and friends to red rice wine during festive celebrations, using vinasse to cook a table full of reddish Fú Zhōu dishes such as red wine chicken and mee sua, red vinasse pork etc. Acquiring the skills of brewing red rice wine could bring about the continuity of Fú Zhōu dishes over several generations.
Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen
有你 UNI Production
Producer : Mok Yii Chek
Coordinator : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang
Video Editor : Amelia Lim
Production Assistant : Michael Lerk
Music : White River
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