Ever since a very young age I've known about the famous Goan drink Feni. My father, originally from Valpoi North Goa, often had a couple bottles of feni stored in the kitchen. There was no hiding it... when opened a distinctive pungent aroma filled the house. I always wondered why it smelt so strong for such a clear drink. After staying in Goa for the past 3 years I've have learned much more about Feni from the locals. There are two types:
COCONUT FENI (FENNY)
Coconut feni is distilled all year round. It comes from toddy (a sap) collected from the coconut palm. Toddy is collected in earthen pots by tapping the buds or the palm tree flowers. The pot are fastened to the tree overnight and brought down in the morning. You can taste the sweetness of the toddy if consumed immediately. I remember when I was younger on our holidays we used to buy a 5 litre gallon of toddy. I used to have around 3 glasses - Yum. The sweetness disappears as the juice gets fermented and froth forms on the top. Then it tastes vinegary. The toddy is taken to the distillery for further fermentation and vaporizing. This finally produces a colourless and odourless drink. Coconut feni contains approx 42% alcohol and can be purchased everywhere in Goa. It is only distilled in South Goa. It can be drunk neat or on the rocks, but in restaurants you are likely to be offered Coke or Limca to mix with it.
CASHEW FENI (FENNY)
Cashew Feni comes from the cashew fruits which ripens March to May. Cashew is a two part fruit :- the acidy seed (the Cashew nut) and the juicy pulpy fruit. The seed is twisted from the fruit to separate it. The feni is made from the juice. When the ripened cashew falls from the tree it is taken to the factory where it's stamped on to extract the juice. Fresh cashew juice is known as "Neero" (neat) and can be drunk. But it tends to make your mouth dry and leave an itchy sensation in the throat. After fermenting, the first distilled extract of the Neero is known as Urrak (Urak). This is considered as light drink - around 10 to 15% alcohol. It's cloudy looking. Most Goan restaurants don't serve Urrak, however, we've noticed recently a few of them advertising it on their boards. Proper Goan's have a generous quantity of Urrak with a squeeze of lime. In restaurants Urrak is more likely to be served with Lemonade or Limca or Soda. The re-distillation of Urrak is known as Cazulo. This is a mixture of Neero and Urrak which contains around 30 to 40% alcohol. Cazulo is a colourless clear drink. The final distill is Feni. A good strong Feni is distilled from the mixture of Urrak and Cazulo. It is colourless and contains around 45% alcohol. As in my childhood memories, cashew feni has a very distinctive aroma. It pongs. Feni is sold all over Goa and served in most restaurants. As home distilling is illegal, homemade feni doesn't exist ... But if it did, it would definitely cost less than Rs.200 for a 1 litre bottle and would be the smoothest available (shhh.. Mum's the word). As for drinking it, my preference is to add twist tonic water to disguise the aroma. Like wine, the taste of cashew feni varies depending on the cashew type and location. Be warned that it is deceptively easy to drink and you could be in for a shock when you stand-up. That said we thoroughly recommend trying this unique and inexpensive local spirit. If you do - be brave and go for the cashew version... and don't call us if you can't find your way home.