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Worth the wait: Ernie's sweet tuba (ka maimai) is a testament to patience (Guam)

2:00 PM, Jun. 26, 2011 Guampdn.com

Great things come to those who wait. No one knows that better than the barbecue masters and party enthusiasts who are connoisseurs of Ernie Rios' sweet tuba.

This non-conventional, yet timeless recipe has touched the lips and spirits of thousands. Even if you haven't acquired the palate for sweet tuba, you can't mistake its unique aroma and flavor.

If you have attempted its creation or know someone who has, you have to appreciate the meticulous labor that goes into every drop. Rios knows this, he loves this, and he wants you to enjoy it too.

Rios, of Dededo, has mastered the labor behind the tuba-making process. Rios says his father taught him how to make tuba in the 1950s. Now 69 years old, Rios has been practicing and perfecting the process ever since.

Since his retirement from the federal government in 1997, Rios has maintained a steady production of tuba for his customers. He has the process down to a science and knows that precision and timing are key in producing tuba.

 

Keen eye
He has a keen eye for spotting trees at the right stage. Rios says that not just any tree can produce tuba.

"The first thing you do is you have to look at the young coconut shoot. Through experience, you'll know when it's time to start preparing it," he says.

He adds that spotting a shoot that looks ready is not enough -- you have to start on the process immediately or it'll be too late to use the shoot.

"The best time to catch a shoot is right before it opens up," Rios says.

According to Rios, the preparation of a coconut tree for tuba can take anywhere from 30 to 45 days, depending on the size of the tree. The smaller the tree, the less time it will take. Once the right tree is spotted, Rios begins the process by tying a string or rope around a coconut shoot. Then he cuts off the tip of the shoot, which he says is a step he has added to his method -- different from the traditional way.

After the tip is removed, he lets the shoot settle for about four days, until it hardens. Once it is hardened, it is ready to be cut with notches. The notches are added -- once in the morning and once in the evening --for the sap to drip. According to Rios, it is better to wait about three days before attaching the container to the shoot. The process is repeated until the sap runs dry.

Depending on the tree, you can produce anywhere from eight ounces to a gallon of sweet tuba.

Once the tuba is collected, it has to sit until the fizz dissipates. But as soon as that process is complete, refrigerate it immediately or it will quickly turn sour.

John Calvo, a longtime fan of Rios' sweet tuba, says Rios is a man whose skills in tuba-making should be recognized for his craft.

"Tuba-making is a dying art being replaced by the modern conveniences," the Tamuning resident says.

"We must cherish and celebrate those who continue to practice and perpetuate ... traditional activities, lest (they) become a footnote in our island's history," Calvo says.

Calvo also says Rios is always happy to share his craft by telling people about the process and by being an active participant in various festivals.

Rios makes his tuba from his home in Dededo and sells his product at the Night Market every Wednesday night at the Chamorro Village in Hagåtña. He sells it in eight-ounce servings or by the gallon, and also is happy to take calls at home for orders.

If you've never had a taste of locally made tuba and are curious, stop in to see him the next time you make your way to the Chamorro Village, or give him a call at 969-5479.

 

Sweet tuba maker Ernie Rios poses with a gallon of his fresh tuba at the Chamorro Village on June 22.
Sweet tuba maker Ernie Rios poses with a gallon of his fresh tuba at the Chamorro Village on June 22. / Frank San Nicolas/For Pacific Sunday News

A longtime tuba drinker, Bob Meno enjoys a bottle of Ernie Rios' sweet tuba at the Chamorro Village in Hagåtña on June 22. Rios has been making tuba for more than 50 years. / Frank San Nicolas/For Pacific Sunday News
Sweet tuba maker, Ernie Rios,, displays a poster that shows the process he uses to make tuba step by step.
Sweet tuba maker, Ernie Rios,, displays a poster that shows the process he uses to make tuba step by step. / Frank San Nicolas/For Pacific Sunday News

 

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