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Feni and Arak (arrack) in Goa
Feni and Arak (arrack)
BOGT writes: " Feni is Goa's traditional liquor made locally. Totally clear and ranking with the strongest of spirits, this twice-distilled "unofficial state drink" is derived from two sources - sap of coconut palm (coconut feni) or juice of cashew apples (cashew or "kaju" feni). Both these ingredients are abundantly available in Goa and feni-making has become a cottage industry, with almost every other house in rural areas brewing the stuff in earthen tills.Till recently dismissed as a basic, local drink of farmers, feni has now gained respectability and become commercialized, with some bot-tlen even exporting it as an exotic spirit. (loconul feni comes from the fermented sap ol the coconut flower-stalk. In this, the young sliouls of a coconut tree are severed at the btM, The milky white fluid (called toddy) that OHM from the wound is allowed to drip into .i milill pol lied to the tree. ("Toddy tapping" i. i ipei lalized job done every morning and the lappcm' are expert climbers.) Palm toddy can In- iiiuni unfermented immediately after collec-iinii mill iiKikts for a refreshing drink. When trained and boiled down to crystallizing point, it produces palm jaggery, the coarse brown sugar used in Goan sweet dishes. Palm-tree growers have to choose between producing toddy or coconuts, because once tapped the tree won't produce nuts in that season. Toddy starts fermenting within hours of tapping, after which it is ready for distillation in a distillery ("Bhaatti"). Big earthen pots filled with toddy are heated over wood fire. The vapors pass through a tube (usually placed in a drum filled with water) to another container where they cool down and liquefy. This first distillate is called "arrack" and has a low alcohol content of 10 to 15 percent proof. It is available at local bars and wine shops. Arrack is reheated and distilled again. Feni is the result of this second distillation. Now the alcohol content is 30 to 35 percent proof, making it a very strong drink. (The
Konkani word "feni" means froth, a name attributed to the liquid's behavior under processing.) Cashew feni is much more popular than coconut feni and is preferred by those with a refined taste. The cashew apple - bright red or yellow in color with a strong aroma - is about 6 or 7 cm long when ripe. The cashew nut grows out of its base. This soft and juicy apple is often eaten raw by the Goans. Once the fruit is harvested, the nuts are separated, dried in the sun and cracked for consumption. The apples are collected in a pit and laboriously crushed underfoot to derive their clear, sweet juice, just like grapes are trodden to produce wine. This juice is called "niro" and tastes best when taken chilled. Niro is fermented for two-three days in a mud pot and then distilled twice like toddy - the first distillation providing arrack and the second one, cashew feni. The cashew tree flowers in January and the apples are harvested in March and April. Cashew feni is produced only in these two months, while coconut feni is produced year-round (except the monsoons when the high humidity is not conducive to sap fermentation). The longer the feni matures, the better it tastes - it is traditionally stored in huge earthen jars. A three-year period is considered good. Feni has a very strong smell - first-timers may even find it offensive. The taste has to be acquired over time. Feni can be taken with soda and ice. You can also dilute it with orange juice or a cold drink like Coke or Pepsi. Cashew feni is considered an ideal base for mixing good cocktails. Feni should never be taken on an empty stomach since it is very strong. Also, never go swimming after drinking it. Cashews as well as the art of distillation were introduced in Goa by the Portuguese in the 16th century. They also left behind another legacy in the realm of spirits - port wine. This is a sweet dark-red fortified wine, named after Oporto, a port in Portugal from where it is shipped. It is also produced locally. Goa is reputed to have the cheapest alcohol in India because of low taxes - all the more reason to say cheers!
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