Judima, the Dimasa Rice Wine

Judima brewed by yours truly

Every ceremony among the Dimasas, whether joyous or sad, is incomplete without the brew that is known as judima. It’s sweet and potent and well-made judima can taste somewhat like honey and the colour is a mellow yellow. It’s interesting how the idea of the brew first came about. The story goes that a Dimasa man packed his rice in banana leaves and headed to the fields to work. He hung the packet on the trunk of a tree and went about his usual business. At noon when he came to have his lunch, liquid was coming out of the packet in droplets. When he tasted it he realized that the liquid was special. He figured out that the tree on which he had hung his packet of rice had the quality to turn cooked rice into delicious brew. The tree was a kind of wattle/ Acacia pennata. And that particular patch of jungle had an abundance of this variety of acacia. Image of the tree can be seen here.

 Acacia pennata or Climbing Wattle from the family Mimosaceae (Touch-me-not family) is native to south and south-east Asia. It’s a small tree with thorny stems and grows up to five m in height. Young branches are green in colour but turn brown with age. The leaves  resemble those of the tamarind. The flowers are yellow or cream-coloured and are borne in large panicles at the end of the branches. The pods are thin, flat, and with thick sutures. This tree is called thembra in Dimasa. Stories tend to be exaggerated and the fact is that fermentation of rice wine takes longer than half a day. Accidental discoveries have always added more delights to the world of food and drink. And much like wine which came from the grapes of rot, this discovery of cooked rice and the bark of the tree must have taken ages to be perfected.

The brown bark is dried in the sun and then chopped into tiny pieces. Then the mixture is ground into powdery form. This is then mixed with rice flour and some water and made into dough. The rice flour is a combination of glutinous and non-glutinous varieties. Sticky rice is added so that the dough sticks together and can be shaped. Stale cakes are also needed to complete the process. The roundels of dough need to be dusted with powdered stale cakes. The ratio is about two stale cakes per one kilogram of rice flour. Depending on the quantity of the mixture, the dough is shaped into several roundels. A ritual that is followed here is that the total number of the cakes must be an odd number. The pattern on the cakes must be the same except for the last one which is shaped in a different pattern and is termed a “male”. That is the way it has been done since time immemorial. The saying in Dimasa….matla rao ni gjer ha humao jla is said in jest when a male is seen among several females. The literal translation is, In the midst of all the girls is a male rice cake!

The starter cakes known as humao
The starter cakes known as humao, are then placed on a bamboo tray and kept to dry for five days. Some keep them for three days. The cakes must be placed in a cool dry place. Sunlight falling on it will reduce the potency of the thembra. After five days the cakes can be stored by tying them loosely in a piece of thin cloth. Traditionally they are stored on a bamboo tray on a bed of dried rice stalks. They are also covered with the same. Once the cakes are used, these rice stalks are kept separately to be used later for the same purpose.

The ratio of rice flour and the dried/ground bark
Now coming to the rice itself, both glutinous and non-glutinous rice is mixed and cooked together. Sometimes only glutinous rice is used. The use of sticky rice is that it gives out more wine in a kilogram of rice as compared to non-sticky rice. A particular variety of rice known in Dimasa as maiju bairing is much prized for the quantity of wine that the rice produces. Whatever the rice may be, just enough water must be added to cook it. The rice should not be soggy and it should be brown at the bottom. A little browning ensures a better colour to the brew.

The rice cooked to a golden brown (at the bottom)
 Once the rice is done, it is taken out of the pot and cooled on a bamboo mat (depending on the quantity) or a tray. The cake is ground to powder, ready to be mixed with the rice. The mixing is done in small quantities . This is done by sprinkling a bit of the powder and water to a handful of rice. The mixed portion is transferred to a bucket. The mixing continues till all the rice is used.  Then the bucket is covered with a thin cloth and then, a lid. In summer, the rice has to cool completely before the mixing starts. In winter, the rice can be mixed when it is still a little warm.
The starter cakes and the bark of Acacia pennata
During summer it takes 24 hours for the smell to emanate and the liquid to start oozing out. But the rice must remain undisturbed for a week at least. Even if the brew can be tasted, it’s best not to take out the liquid as soon as it collects in the container. To enable the judima to collect and to take it out with a cup there’s a bamboo object called yenthi. It’s open on both sides (imagine a can with the top and the bottom removed) and can be placed right in the middle of the bucket or utensil. This is where the liquid collects through the woven bamboo which works like a sieve. It takes in the liquid and keeps out the solids. After ten days or so, the brew can be taken out and kept in bottles. Not several bottles at one time because the brew will keep coming  out but the pace will get slower after two weeks or so. During winter it can take two or more days for the fermentation.

Yenthi, the sieve used inside the container for the brew

Traditionally large bamboo baskets called khulu are used for the rice. The baskets  are lined with banana leaves and the bottom is covered with several strips of banana leaves folded in such a way that when the fermentation takes place all the liquid does not seep out of the basket. The basket is placed on a bamboo stand and after the fermentation the liquid falls drop by drop into a vessel kept below. They are still used when large quantities of the brew need to be made on festive occasions or for the after-death ceremonies. But with nuclear families making judima for home consumption, smaller containers are used. Instead of yenthi made of bamboo, plastic jars can be used with the bottom removed and with perforations on the entire body.

It’s interesting to note that over the years several changes have taken place in the way the rice is kept. During my mother’s childhood, the floor was where the rice was kept. First of all a thick layer of rice husk was placed on the floor. This was from the first sifting of the rice after it’s pounded. The subsequent sifting produces smaller particles of rice husk. Then another thick layer of banana leaves were placed on the husk. Then the cooled and mixed rice was placed on the banana leaves. This was again covered with leaves. The topmost cover consisted of jute sacks to maintain a warm temperature to facilitate the fermentation.  Once the fermentation took place, generally after twenty four hours, the mixture was transferred to earthen pitchers. The pitchers were first cleaned with a particular leaf with abrasive properties. Then the pitchers were placed upside down on iron stands which were placed on a chulha with a smouldering fire from rice husks. This was a long process lasting for two or three days. This ensured that the pitcher was cleansed of all impurities and promised a longer shelf life to the brew.

When the brew is first taken out it is done so with an offering to Madai Shibarai/Lord Shiva, seeking  blessings for the family and the household.

Newly made rice wine has a cloudy appearance but turns clearer with age

In the place where the mixture is kept, no sour fruits are cut or consumed. It is believed that the brew will turn sour in that case. Maintaining hygiene in the surroundings is of utmost importance. A bottle of judima as a gift is a symbol of love and affection and all good things that are associated with these feelings and emotions.

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3 Responses

  1. Mark Willis says:

    Well, that is absolutely fascinating! I love this blogging hobby. You get to "meet" lots of interesting people from all over the world, and read about their culture and traditions – often so different from one's own. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  2. NatureStop says:

    Hey Kanak…WOW!!!A new blog and that too a food one…Am I glad!!!!I can get a lot of great recipes now…how have you been? It's a been a long time indeed.I have been lazy again so very less blogging…ha ha ha

  3. jsb says:

    Wonderful post, Kanak. I loved the painstaking description of the process. Look forward to learning more from your blog about Assamese cuisine and getting recipes of unusual dishes – for us, that is

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