Monday, July 15, 2024
26 C
Brunei Town

Straight from the stalk

Lyna Mohammad

Sugarcane juice, or air tebu is a local favourite drink; one that I have a bias for whenever it is available.

I don’t mean the canned kind which is readily found at supermarkets, but rather juice from a freshly crushed stalk, the kind often sold by vendors during special occasions.

It is quite refreshing, especially when chilled, and is popular not just among Bruneians but also the people in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

I have been going to a vendor who has set up a stall in the capital as part of the Gerai Ramadhan to get a bottle or two, so I can have it for breaking of the fast.

Ayuniee Syaheerah and her family have been stall operators for some years, offering food and beverages during the seasonal gerai and other special events. As I waited for my order, I struck up a conversation and asked about the business. While it is a top selling item, not many offered air tebu freshly squeezed, she said, citing the lack of either equipment or manpower.

Her parents love the drink, especially her father, who decided to add air tebu to their menu when they started operating as a stall vendor. “Why not sell it,” she said, recalling the moment.

Other local favourites recommended by family members to include on the menu are teh tarik pandan and Milo, along with their signature ‘Mango Shack’ drink.

Photos show a vendor at the Gerai Ramadhan processing a sugarcane stalk for its juice. PHOTOS: MUIZ MATDANI

“My father’s decision to join the Gerai Ramadhan and adding air tebu to our menu was indeed the right one as we received overwhelming support from the public that year.

“Since then we have been participating in Gerai Ramadhan every year with air tebu as a main focus,” Ayuniee said.

Processing sugarcanes is a physical job, and taxing, especially during the fasting month. She worries about rainy weather as there tends to be less visitors, but also is concerned about the supply of sugarcanes.

“We barely meet the demand of the customers because it is difficult to obtain sugarcanes,” she said. “We faced this issue last year because there was a high demand of sugarcanes, our usual supplier didn’t have enough to last the whole month. However, we managed to find other suppliers, so Insya Allah, we won’t have to face the same issue again this year.”

Their income took a hit when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in 2020, since Gerai Ramadhan and most special events were suspended.

But it didn’t deter them for too long, as they began to process sugarcanes from home and sold it through an acquaintance operating an ad-hoc ‘drive-through’ for food and drinks.

Ayuniee and her family hope that one day they would be able to offer air tebu in their daily stall operations. But with the challenge of getting enough supply, they decided that for now, they’ll reserve air tebu as a beverage sold during special occasions.