Feni holds a special place in the Goan culture and society. Families come together and put tremendous effort to produce feni for personal and commercial use. Manu Shrivastava says that the heritage drink that started in Goan homes has come a long way. Feni is gradually gaining popularity among tourists—domestic and international. It is one of the last few enterprises that are still owned and managed by families giving the ‘industry’ a characteristic personal touch.
From March to May every year, a characteristic smell permeates through the air in Goa—of fermenting cashew fruit juice. The intoxicating ‘aroma’ gets stronger as one heads closer to the houses preparing the traditional liquor that has been an integral part of Goan culture and cuisine for more than 400 years—feni.
Feni, incidentally, was the first alcoholic spirit in India accorded the Geographical Indication (GI) status in 2009. This meant the liquor made from cashew fruit can only be called feni if it is made in Goa through the traditional specific process. In 2016, the Goa government introduced an amendment to the state excise duty law elevating feni to the status of a ‘heritage drink.’
In Arambol, a quaint bohemian town in North Goa, the tourist season wraps up by late February or early March, marking the beginning of the feni season. A short diversion from the arterial road tapering down to the beach opens into a forested, hilly settlement. The narrow road is flanked by unevenly-spaced traditional houses with big verandas, clothes drying on jute lines and elderly women seated on parapets cleaning and drying fish. And then, there are houses all the way up the hill in myriad directions. On one open plot abuzz with activity is the Kundaykar family preparing the patch for making feni.
The Kundaykars have been making and selling feni in Arambol for more than four decades. ‘This work is very difficult,’ says Ana Kundaykar, the 59-year-old family head who initiated the familial custom. ‘My father never made feni. I started producing feni for personal consumption and a few years later my wife began helping me too.’ Over time, as the demand of feni grew in the area, Ana decided to scale up production. ‘With just my wife and daughter to help in the family, I was left short-staffed. So, nine years back, our neighbours decided to join us in making and selling feni.’
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