“IN GOA, IF YOU ASK a woman where her husband is, she will often tell you that he’s ‘gone to the parliament’,” says Raul da Costa, a native of Curtorim town in South Goa district. The ‘parliament’ he refers to is an unlikely one. It refers to a tavern, mostly a nondescript little shelter by the side of the road or on the way to a paddy field. It is the locals’ destination of choice at the end of a hectic day. It holds the promise of delicious fish cutlets and the ever popular feni, shared alongside their troubles with friends and familiar faces.
This tavern culture took a hit near the end of the 1980s, when the state encouraged these Portuguese-era establishments to be converted into modern bars to lure travellers. By 2016, only a handful were left. Raul, along with his partner Mackinley Barreto, has been trying to revive this iconic Goan tradition with a trail called Chol Kopp-ak (literally, let’s go grab a shot). Before you head to a Goan tavern, though, you should know the legendary drink you will encounter there.
Goans were likely drinking feni before the Portuguese introduced the cashew tree in the area in the 1560s. The locals fused its fruit with a native technique of brewing strong liquor—a tradition monopolised by coconut until then. Today, despite its late entry, cashew feni is consumed more widely than its coconut counterpart, which is a staple in the villages of South Goa.
The sap collected from coconut trees is fermented and then distilled to get the first distillate called mollop (15 per cent alcohol). This is then redistilled with fermented palm toddy to create the real deal, called maad (‘coconut feni’ in Konkani)—an intense hit of 42.5 per cent alcohol. The same process is applied to the cashew fruit for the more popular version of feni.
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