The Labu Sayong is quite simply Malaysia’s most famous secret. Even within the country, although most Malaysians are aware of this pottery, few have them in their homes anymore. With the advent of plastic and ceramics, the use of this unique and wonderful item has unfortunately been declining.

‘Labu’ literally means squash or gourd while ‘Sayong’ is the name of the little town where these water vessels were invented and produced. Sayong Village is located in the State of Perak in Peninsular Malaysia, about 3 hours away from Kuala Lumpur. The region has long been known to possess good quality clay which is probably the reason why the Labu Sayong are so amazing.

These vessels are traditionally used for storing water for drinking. It is an extremely porous material so do not be alarmed if you discover your water level decreasing on its own. This is especially true in the beginning when the Labu Sayong is new and not fully saturated with water. Because of this porosity, the Labu Sayong must never be washed with any detergents or cleaning agents, all you need to do is a simple rinse with clean water. In case a ‘stronger’ cleaning is needed, fill the vessel with some warm unsweetened weak tea and pour some on its outer sides as well. This will cause the water to have a faint tea flavour for a few days, but it will go off eventually.

The clay absorbs some of the water and allows it to evaporate on its outer surface. The causes the water stored in the Labu Sayong to be delightfully cooler than water stored in other containers in the same room – an amazing invention back in the day, before electricity and refrigerated drinking water.

This also causes light coloured Labu Sayong to turn darker and dull black containers to glisten as though they have been polished. One simply needs to touch the sides of a full Labu Sayong to understand how cool and moist they feel. The Labu Sayong seems alive in comparison with inert plastic, glass or ceramic containers. Water stored in the Labu Sayong never goes stale and a warning must be issued here. Labu Sayong are an addiction! They are unique, beautiful, fun to use and a definite conversation piece.

Many Labu Sayong are half-handmade, meaning moulds are used in the beginning stages. However, many of the steps are still done by hand. There are no large producers of Labu Sayong and they are mainly produced by family run operations in their own backyards or small roadside workshops. We select only the best possible ones we can find. However, do take note that all Labu Sayong will have slight variations in size, weight, colour and water capacity. We try our best to provide as accurate a description of each item as possible but imagine the frustration of measuring the water content of a container that ‘drinks’ some of the water as you fill it!

Finally, the Labu Sayong have been known to ‘perspire’. At the bottom-most section of the Labu Sayong and even its under the vessel itself, it is not uncommon to find some water droplets. So in the beginning, place the Labu Sayong on a spare saucer or a small tea tray, until you become more familiar with your Labu Sayong.

While the Labu Sayong is able to take boiling water directly from the kettle, we recommend that you allow the water to cool a little in case your room temperature is lower than what we are used to in the tropics.

There are Labu Sayong made only for decorative purposes but the ones we have on Simply Arete are all functioning water containers. Labu Sayong are not glazed. The black colour is achieved by burying the clay vessels in wood chips immediately after removal from the kiln. Clay coloured Labu Sayong do not undergo this burying process. Over a period, the Labu Sayong will begin to show its age and react with the minerals that have passed through its pores. This is nothing to be concerned about. Labu Sayong are made to last a lifetime.

Upon purchase from the maker, Labu Sayong must washed and soaked a few times. They should also be filled with water and the water should be replaced daily. This is to remove the smoky smell or flavour that new Labu Sayong might have. This has already been done on your behalf. All you need to do, is to give the vessel a light rinse and they are ready for use. However, if you still find the smell or taste too smoky for your liking, simply continue replacing the water daily until it is gone.

We hope you enjoy your Labu Sayong as much as we do. Do drop us an email and we will do our best to answer your queries.