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2020, May, 10

Rượu cần, a straw wine? :

Vietnam's alcohol which is fermented in a jug then drunk directly from it by sucking through bamboo straws. 


In the world, we have tremendous kinds of alcohol all over. I've never heard of any country where don't have any history of producing alcohol. The majority of people love drinking and may have some funny stories of when they were drunk. When I was travelling places to places never got bored asking like ' what kind of alcohol do you have in Germany? ', ' Can you tell me more about mead? What is it?' ' Hey, have you ever made beer?'. Alcohol was a useful topic for me as the weather was. 


When I was searching about fermented foods in Vietnam, I found an amazing alcohol. 



Rượu cần : Vietnam's alcohol which is in an earthenware jug and drunk through bamboo straws. 

Straw wines. I've never known that this type of alcohol exists in some Asian countries. They are all made of regional grains. In Vietnam, it's called rượu cần (pronounce like ziu khan***) and known as the alcohol of some small groups of ethnic people. In general, it's drunk when people celebrate lunar new year's day, weddings and parties.


rượu = alcohol  cần = tube, straw

Pronunciation is different by regions.

In the northern part of VN, like in Hanoi,  it's pronounced ziu khan.
And in the south, like in Ho Chi Minh city, it's ryu khan.

So, what made me so curious was the way people drink and enjoy rượu cần. Open the top cover, stick several bamboo straws, pour water in the jug, wait for 10-30 mins, gather some people to drink with and suck the wine out from the straws with several people.

Doesn't it sound so fun!? It just sounds like entertainment for me! 

You know, you never take the wine out from the jug. Because literally you can't. That's the way you drink rượu cần.


The reason why rượu cần fascinates me:

 No.1  ''No water fermentation.''


The alcohol made of grains in Japan is of course Sake. In the Sake production, people use natural water to ferment. On the other hand, rượu cần doesn't need water to ferment. The brewer put all the ingredients in the jug, close the top, ferment it and sell. Then when people drink it, pour water directly in the jug,  wait a bit and drink! It's so new to me!



The reason why rượu cần fascinates me:

 No.2  ''Rice hulls''

So, what's inside of the jug?  Rice, a starter with some bacterias, and rice hulls. Rice can be general rice or glutinous rice, or even mixed. The starter is like a dried cake of row flour which has attracted useful bacterias for producing rượu cần. It's called bánh men or men rượu. 

These 2 ingredients are just easy to understand but the last on, the hulls of rice, is beyond my understanding. It's the very outer skin of rice that nobody eats. I just couldn't believe when I first heard that. Because,,,,the hulls!! It's useful for farming in Japan, but for producing alcohol? Isn't it too hard to be decomposed? Or is there any role for them? Oh, I know! There are special bacterias in it, aren't there? And their enzyme helps to decompose the ingredients. If not, it's too wonderous! The hulls! Why they are there!!?


The reason why rượu cần fascinates me:

 No.3  ''Sucking through a bamboo straw.''


It's great that the rượu cần brewers didn't think about and stepped forward to using plastic straws. It's obviously people are not interested in using plastic straws any more. So keep loving your tradition. However, it makes me wonder if the hulls ever stuck in the straw.


The reason why rượu cần fascinates me:

 No.4  ''Drinking from all directions''


The bamboo straw never is enough just one. It must be 4! 8! Or more!! It seems like depending on the size of the jug but can you imagine!? Placing a huge jug in the centre, all young to old, men to women suck alcohol from one. It's totally new, well, I know it's an old custom but In Japan we don't have that! In my country, we say that poking one hotpot with many makes everyone closer. I wonder if drinking rượu cần gets people closer. Oh, I really want to try it. Sucking rượu cần with huge numbers of people...  




The reason why rượu cần fascinates me:

 No.5  ''Seacret recipes by the ethnics .''

I've been talking about rượu cần in general, but actually it exists more than one kind. Because in VN, there are 54 ethnic groups and some of them make rượu cần traditionally. I've found some research papers on the web and some actually visited the ethnic villages but the people didn't tell the researchers every details. It's the secret of the ethnic. Oh, that fascinates me more!!



So, then I started my journey to find rượu cần.

The informations I shared here was all from the web until Nov. in 2018. It's wonderful that I understand English and a bit of Vietnamese to find research papers, articles and Youtube videos. I appreciate all of them but I really need to find rượu cần to try!!


When I visited Hanoi Nov. in 2018, I had some lists of liquor stores in Hanoi and asked around the locals but couldn't find it. People all said, 'It's not in Hanoi.'. Seemed like I need to get countrysides.


In 2019, May, I was visiting Hanoi again. The right before my visit, I found a Facebook page of a restaurant and retail which might serve or sell rượu cần not too far from Hanoi. Luckily, the person spoke good English and he said that he can guide me to one of the breweries.❤︎


So, my dream was going to come true! Let's go down the rabbit hole!!

It shall be told next time. 

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