It wouldn’t be wrong to deem the thriving party capital of the country – Goa – as one of country’s richest culinary hotspots too. An erstwhile Portuguese colony, Goa has successfully managed to retain its vintage charm through its local customs and food. And one such Portuguese contribution to the beverages of the subcontinent is Feni. Food historian KT Acharya in his book, A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, describes Feni as the “Distilled liquour with a distinctive flavour developed in Goa by Catholic monks from the red ‘fruit’of the cashew tree. Distilled coconut toddy is also sometimes loosely termed as Feni”
Feni is a thrice distilled liquor derived from cashew fruit, the outer fruit surrounding the cashew nut. Feni has been a part of Goan food tradition for over 400 years. It is a fruity spirit with a distinct, pungent smell that could be quite overwhelming for some. The liqour, unlike other alchoholic drinks, doesn’t give you a hangover. In fact, it is seen as one of the best traditional remedies to combat common cold, cough and flu. Locals claim that Feni warms up the body and clear your respiratory system more than any cough syrup.
It is not mass produced and is mostly made using traditional methods of distilling the cashew juice over a fire in mud-sealed drums. The organic drink with no added flavours, preservatives and additives is available in very cheap prices across local taverns of Goa.
Goa became the entry point of the Portuguese settlement way back in the 16th century. It took no time for the Portuguese legacy to rub off on to the local cuisines. Dishes like sorpotel, bebinca, vindaloo and saanas are some of the famous Portuguese contributions to the Goan palate.
About the origins of Feni, K.T Acharya further mentions, “It was largely the Catholic monks of Goa who developed a cuisine which amalgamated Iberian with local sensibilities (mainly Saraswath Hindus). Monks were responsible, in Goa as in Europe, for developing alcoholic beverages, like distinctive tasting Feni distilled from cashew ‘fruits’ and coconut palm Toddy.”
Chef Sadaf Hussain, contestant of MasterChef India 2016, says, “the strong-smelling liquor Feni (or fenny) made from cashew apples or coconut sap is a trademark of the region. Sattari is a small town in Goa which is famous for being the Feni capital of Goa. People say that the word ‘feni’ could be derived from the Sanskrit word “phena”, which means froth or foam. When you shake a bottle of Feni and pour it into the glass, one can see a light froth collected on the rim of the glass, which basically gives the name.”
He adds, “Feni has around 43-45% of alcohol, which makes this drink very strong and smelly. The smell (aroma) is indicative of a carefully crafted feni. Goa always was blessed with coconuts and palm trees and hence the locals used to utilise coconuts but Portuguese invasion also brought exotic varieties of cashew trees and the fruit (cashew apple fruit) was then used for Feni.”
Another local liquor of the state is Urrack, again made after distilling cashews. But it is seasonal and is available typically in the months of April and May. Urrack is made of the first distillation of the cashew fruits and has a characteristic sweet, fruity taste. Feni is made with the second or third distillation of the cashew fruit and is available throughout the year.
Next time you are in Goa, do make sure you try the fruit liquor. You can enjoy Feni as is or make your own desi cocktail by mixing it with lemonade, a pinch of salt and slit chilli. Let the party begin!
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