Since I am still in the beginning of the research phase and first time in Indonesia, and new to the Batak culture around Lake Toba, I can be quite curious but also naïve regarding local peculiarities.
A local woman offered me a white/yellowish drink in the early afternoon, calling it ‘Batak Juice’. Being on a farm surrounded by exotic fruits that I had never seen before, I took a big sip thinking I would taste something fresh and fruity. I however immediately felt a strong and bitter taste of alcohol on my tongue, close to a new white wine I knew from home. I exclaimed that there must be alcohol inside, but I only received a strong denying accompanied by a little giggling. I did not know what to believe at the time. She insisted that the drink was without alcohol saying: “but I also drink it all the time!”. Then she shouted something in Batak to another lady and both started laughing. In my mind I just had an alcoholic drink – that I did not really enjoy – but I let her continue giggling and stopped putting emphasis on the fact that I normally trust my taste buds.
Later that day I was told that the ‘Batak Juice’ actually DOES contain alcohol and is basically palm wine. I learned how it is collected directly from the tree and that after a short period of time through fermentation the alcohol percentage can reach around 10%, which is indicated by a more intense yellow tone.
Due to this encounter of being drugged without knowing, I became more interested in the palm wine. I received some information about its origin and also got a tiny bit more used to the taste. That is why I can say: Keep your eyes, mind and mouth open for this drink many people call ‘Batak Juice’, ‘Batak Milk’ or ‘Batak Beer’!
Written by: Carla Rohde