One of the most commonly spoken word in Goa countryside is feni. And the reason is not difficult to understand because feni is the name of the most popular local drink among hard drinks.
There are two types of feni’s – Cashew feni and Coconut feni. Cashew feni is made out of the juice of cashew apples whereas coconut feni is made from the toddy collected by toddy tappers. While coconut feni has it’s own charm, cashew feni is preferred by many because of it’s flavour, between the two,cashew feni costs more.
In the traditional method of making cashew feni, the cashew apples are manually crushed in a coimbi, a rock on the hill which is carved or shaped like a basin with an outlet for the juice. The juice is collected in a huge earthen pot called Kodem, which is buried in the ground. The juice is then distilled in earthen or copper pots.
When the cashew apples are crushed, the pulp is arranged in the shape of a cake in the coimbi and tied with a string. A huge boulder is then placed on top of it. The final quota of juice which trickles out in a clean form is called Neero. Many people like to drink Neero since it helps bowel movement and provides relief from constipation.
The traditional method of distilling cashew feni on the hill is very interesting to watch. The cashew juice is put in a big pot called Bhann. The Bhann serves as a closed boiler. It is connected to a smaller pot called Launni by means of a conduit. The Launni serves as a receiver or collector.
The juice in the big pot is then boiled by burning firewood under it. As the process of vaporisation and distillation goes on and the concentrated liquid collects in the smaller pot, the pressure in the receiver is kept in check by pouring cold water on it, frequently with a wooden laddle. The first stage of processing may be done on big fire but the later stage of distillation has to be done on slow fire to keep the pressure and heat under control. The process of distilling feni with such apparatus takes about 8 hours and is locally called Bhatti.
One can tell from a distance that feni is being distilled since the surrounding area is filled with its aroma. And this aroma attracts many feni consumers, who halts in their tracks when their nostrils receive the smell.
The liquor produced from cashew is of three grades Urrac, Cazulo and feni. The Urrac is the product of first distillation. It is light and can be consumed neat. It’s strength ranges between 14 and 16 grao. However, when consumed in excess, Urrac intoxicates the mind like any other hot drink. The Urrac is said to go well with orange or lemon.
The Cazulo is the product of second distillation. It is moderately strong. The Cazulo can be consumed either neat or in a diluted form depending upon the lining and resistance of one’s alimentary tract. However it is not seen in the market today.
The product, which we get after the process of third distillation is called feni. It’s strength ranges between 20 and 24 grao. It has a long shelf life.Now that the Cazulo is not made, feni is produced after second distillation itself. The second or third hand feni is a product par excellence.
Strengthwise, high grade feni is like a dynamite. There are known to exist about 4,000 such mini traditional distilleries or stills in Goa, manufacturing cashew feni and about 2,200 stills manufacturing coconut feni. About 75 per cent of stills making cashew feni are in north Goa and the rest are in south Goa. As far as the stills making coconut feni are concerned, south Goa has about 65 per cent of them and the rest are in north Goa. This is an indication that north Goa abounds in cashew trees while south Goa has more coconut trees.
It is understood that there are over 7,000 shops, bars and taverns in Goa selling feni and other liquors, either wholesale or retail. About 55 per cent of them are in north Goa and 45 per cent in south Goa.
Feni sold in bulk is measured in a pot called Kouso. One Kouso is equal to 20 bottles or 15 litres. It is stored in glass carboys called Garrafao. A small Garrafao holds about 6 bottles of feni, while a big one can store about 12 to 14 bottles. Some people store feni in clay porcelain jars called Bhonni. Feni stored in a Garrafao or Bhonni remains intact for years. A PVC can is definitely not a substitute for the unique Garrafao.
Feni is written differently as fenny, fenim or fenni. However it should be pronounced as Fenim. The word feni is derived from the word fenn which means froth. In fact, a good feni when poured in a glass produces a little froth, which is an indication of the superior quality of the product.
What makes feni a great drink is not only it’s good taste but also it’s smell. It has a strong smell which cannot be hidden once the bottle is opened and the drink is poured in the glass. The glass from which the feni is consumed takes a long time to lose the smell, if it is kept unwashed.
Just like a ripe guava or a ripe jackfruit, feni makes it’s presence felt by its sheer smell. The smell of feni may not be pleasant to non-drinkers, but feni consumers simply love it. They jump at the smell of feni and give it out after tasting it.
Some people don’t like it, when it is said that the feni smells. One of my neighbours strongly objects to the word smell. It is a flavour not smell, he says, feni without aroma is no feni at all. Can you imagine eating a warm mutton xacuti without the flavour of spice?
It has to be accepted that the aroma or smell of feni is an integral part of the drink. This has also been the expert opinion of some German liquor connoisseurs who tested some samples of Goan feni. The samples were taken to them by a local businessman from Panjim, who had planned to get rid of the smell of feni. The German connoisseurs were reported to have advised him not to interfere with the smell.
â€œIf you kill the smell, you will kill the drinkâ€ they cautioned him. So much for the taste and smell of feni, desculpando, flavour of Feni.
What about the safety and quality of feni? Is the stuff which is sold in the market, today, good and safe? You guessed right. One has to be very careful, nowadays, while buying feni for home use or while consuming it in bars.
Spurious feni is reported to be sold and served in many places. What is alarming is that some unscrupulous sellers are known to sell spurious feni containing Navsagar and even ammonium chloride and zinc chloride from the batteries, in order to boost it’s strength. Spurious feni is injurious to human health. A good drinker can easily tell the difference between a genuine feni and an adulterated one by it’s taste and flavour.