Everything about Goa!The Incredible Story of Feni that Butler Didn't Tell You!
Feni in Goa always goes by its first name! Next time probe a bit before you say Saúde, you'll get to know the two clans: the Coconut Feni and Cashew Feni.
Well, there is nothing genetically common to the two, apart from a being two distinct country liquors, enjoying a cordial neighborhood relation for about 500 years.
Though both are the very own tribes of Goa, somehow the later - the Cashew Feni - appears more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than the former. Oh yes, if someone in town is asking for Feni, they meant the Cashew Feni.
So how it all began? Let's give credit where its due. The Portuguese traders brought the wonder-nut , cashew nut , from the eastern coasts of South America, sometimes in the 16th century. Well, it's the nut they brought , not the Feni. It took the Goan ingenuity for the otherwise not so edible cashew fruit to find its fiery expression as Feni.
Interestingly cashew tree grew much better in the laterite soil of the Malabar & Konkan coast, better that its original home, much the similar way the Portuguese explorers established themselves here during the 16th century.
But its commercial level cultivation as a cash crop, as seen today had to wait till the 1960's . Presently India has the largest cashew crop cultivation, with 95% of its cashew farm workforce as women. Interestingly this growth of cashew as a cash crop in the 60's coincided with the expulsion of the Portuguese from Goa, the very people who brought it some 400 years ago.
The paradox doesn't end there. Most of the places where cashew is cultivated, it's for the cashew nut. The fruit is often discarded in the plantations after de-seeding. Of all the west coast, where cashew grew, it's the Goan who pioneered making a firewater out of the otherwise discarded fruit.
Purists among the botanists would not agree to call this as a fruit. If you expect the cashew nut to be inside the cashew fruit ( or cashew apple, as it is often called), you are wrong. Unlike in many fruits, the nut hangs outside the pear shaped amber-orange colored 'fruit'.
So how does the cashew apple make it into that much talked about Feni? Tree ripen, fallen fruit handpicked, de-seeded and piled in a massive basin called colmbi , scooped out of the hard laterite floor, later to be stomped to take make into a pulp. The smashed fruit then heaped into a mount, tied with a vine around. A massive laterite boulder, easily weighing 10-15 kilos, is kept on the pulpy heap.
The oozed juice is called Neero, by itself is a drink, though nothing alcoholic about it. They have now a days a barrel shaped press to squeeze the juice out of the stomped fruit pulp.
The whole this is a bit messy but time tested technique the Goans invented. Otto von Bismarck is attributed for saying,"If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made." Obviously he didn't have a chance to see how Feni was made!
The squeeze to Neero is where the physics of Feni making ends and the alchemy begins.
Neero ferments over a few days, go for a wood fired triple distillation process. The first distillation, brings out a mild version of alcohol called Urrack
Urrack then re-mixed with a calibrated quantity of Neero to get a still stronger version of alcohol called Cazulo. The third round results in Feni.
In fact the triple distilled Feni is too strong in alcohol to consume.So the distillation stops at Cazulo to be bottle for consumption.
So, when you are ordering Feni what is served is Cazulo!
The wonderful thing about Feni is its traditional way of making still continues in Goa. Unlike the whisky or rum, Feni is not 'manufactured' in sprawling distilleries.
Come February-April, hundreds of traditional Feni making setups spring to action around the cashew plantations of rural Goa. That's when the fruit ripens, and the whole thing has to be completed before the Monsoon hits the coast, by May end.
Once distilled and bottled, there is no hurry. It just makes it to the taverns at its leisure.
So, can you get Feni outside Goa? Officially Feni is classified as 'country liquor', that is produced locally and has to be consumed locally! That stops Feni going out of Goa's state boarders, though the efforts to classify this into a 'Heritage Drink' is still on!
What about 'Feni' made outside Goa? Well, in 2009 Goan Feni got a special status associated with the region where it is produced. Something similar to Champagne of France or the whisky of Scotland. That legally prevent the 'Feni' produced outside to be called as Goan Feni or even Feni.
Buy Feni in Goa from reputed taverns or shops. A great deal of what is passed as Feni for the unsuspecting tourists could be anything but Feni, in its various spurious incarnations.
One last thing before you lift that glass and say saúde...
You need the stomach to stand the whiff of a strong country liquor. Never heed to those advises of mixing Feni with Coke, Pepsi and the likes. Being Goans, they are simply trying to be polite to you.
A 500 year old 'heritage drink' could never have been taken with ice, leave alone Pepsi! Remember, that distiller did not add anything to it, yeast, flavors.. nothing. Not even water.
Feni in Goa is taken shot, neat and bottom up in one go. Period.