“Ruou can” is an indispensible rice wine at important events such as the New Year celebration of ethnic people in the Central Highlands. Several weeks before the Lunar New Year, the Ede people of Dak Lak province begin to distill wine to serve their relatives and friends.
Ede women prepare rice to make “Ruou can”.
The family of H Nuong Bya in Ea Tieu hamlet just completed their coffee harvest and are now busy cleaning jars, washing banana leaves, and making alcohol yeast. They will distill 8 jars of wine which will be drunk through long bamboo straws called “Can”.
H Nuong Bya said each family has their secrets for distilling alcohol to make a distinctive brew from the common ingredients of rice, rice husks, and yeast.
The ingredients are stuffed into jars and covered with banana leaves. The yeast is made from several kinds of plants but the recipe is kept within the family.
“Yeast made from leaves, roots, and bark is safe. The secret combination of ingredients creates a uniquely-flavored alcoholic beverage,” H Nuong Bya explained.
The family of Ma Pam is famous for making the best Ruou can in Ea Tieu hamlet. He became familiar with distilling alcohol by watching older people when he was little.
When Ma Pam grew up, he began making Ruou can for sale. Ma Pam worries that many people are starting to use commercial yeast instead of traditional methods.
“My family is in the trade of distilling Ruou can. I will teach young people to make it and preserve this Ede tradition. We won’t let it fade out,” said Ma Pam.
The Ede and other ethnic groups in Vietnam’s Truong Son mountains and Central Highlands consider Ruou can the drink of the Jade Emperor. It brings them joy and luck at New Year celebrations and other important events. Ruou can has a sacred significance to the Ede’s genies, but it also represents solidarity and hospitality.