Saturday, June 12, 2010

can you get samsu in singapore, today?

photos from national archives of singapore

in the 60s and 70s, i often came across reports on "illicit samsu distillery smashed" or "mash seized in samsu swoop" in the straits times. i had guessed that samsu was some kind of cheap liquor but i did not really know what it was made from. today, if you try to google for 'samsu', you may not get the answer you want.

samsu is distilled from fermented rice mash. samsu was a poor man's drink. it was also used as an ointment and an offering during prayers, mainly by the chinese. pregnant (chinese) women used to bathe with it. like toddy, it was popular with those in the low-income group. however, it was cheaper than toddy and the kick, which was twice as strong, came quickly.

many of the illicit samsu distilleries were hidden in the rural farming areas like tampines, yio chu kang, lim chu kang, upper thomson, upper serangoon and potong pasir. these 'factories' were usually located near some streams or ponds because a lot of water was needed for the production of the samsu.

although there were licensed manufacturers of samsu, illicit samsu was preferred by most drinkers because of the higher alcohol content, around 60%, and, of course, the cheaper price. up to the 70s, there were still illegal dens all over singapore selling samsu. for between 30 and 50 cents, you could get a samsu drink served with titbits.

the authorities, especially the police and customs people, were determined to stamp out the illegal production of samsu because of revenue lost through the non-payment of duties on the liquor and more so, because of the health hazard posed by the consumption as the samsu was usually prepared and distilled under unhygienic conditions.

chun see, my fellow blogger, may be able to provide us with more information on the making of illegal samsu because where he used to live, lorong kinchir, there were some bootleggers.

can you buy samsu legally today? maybe, not in singapore but i have read about school-boys consuming samsu in west malaysia.


Uncle Phil said...

It is an opened secret among the older folks that this illegal samsu can be easily purchased from openly known moonshiners and stocked up in the pantry in preparation for the arrival of a child. It has always played a major role in the "confinement diet" of new mother, when it comes to the observation of the month long period of restrictions and food following the birth of a newborn.

kimology said...

Malysia is BolehLand. A lot of things are possible!

yg said...

according to my friend, any rice wine is samsu which means it is available in s'pore.

another friend told me that her neighbour taught her mother how to make her own rice wine at home. it was done surreptitiously. besides rice, the other ingredient need for making rice wine is 'kek piah' obtainable from the chinese medical shop.

now i recall how my mother used to buy 'pek chew' from some unknown source and not from the kampong provision shop.

Uncle Phil said...

For those who are interested in moonshinging ang chew instead of pek chew, I have the recipe in my blog. Look for ang chow in the index.

Freddie said...

Tapai pulut and Tapai Ubi are fermented glutinous rice and tapioca respectively. They can be bought at Larkin Bus terminal.
The alcohol content in them is high enough to give you a kick, You can buy the alcohol from the vendor, but must order in advance.
I like to serve the tapai chilled. A great desert.

Anonymous said...

Here's something I wrote about alcohol distillation in my yet to complete book about my childhood years ...
".. Grandfather would mash up the yeast cakes with a hammer. He would then mix them with unpolished rice and water and the mixture left in a big covered clay urn to ferment.... Grandfather self-improvished the distillation set using a custom-made cylindrical aluminium boiler with a hole drilled through its side so that a tube with a ladle attached could be inserted. A wok with tap water was used as a cover and also act to cool the vapour from the hot fermented mixture. As the vapour came into contact with the base of the wok, it condensed and dropped onto the ladle which was strategically placed just below the wok with supporting wires, which in turn flowed down the tube and out into a waiting bottle...."
I also did an illustration..