If there’s one drink that Goa is famous for, it’s feni; more especially cashew feni. Cashew trees abound all over the state and the nut as well as the fruit forms an integral part of Goan food and culture. The cashew nut is roasted and eaten as a snack or used in cooking, whilst the fruit is used to make the pungent Goan liquor called feni.
So popular is this fruit and nut, that there is an entire festival, celebrating its uses and deliciousness, that is held in Goa every year. The festival centres around the uses of the fruit and nut, the making of feni as well as its drinking.
The cashew fruit derives its name from the Portuguese word ‘caju’ which literally means “nut that produces itself”. It is actually the seed of the cashew tree. The cashew nut is widely consumed as a snack and used in cooking.
Cashew nuts may be roasted and sold both with and without their skins. They may also be salted, or have masalas and other spices added to them.
The nut also has widespread use in both cooking and sweet making. The nut may ground into a paste and used as the base of several curries, known as ‘korma’. Some sweets like marzipan and kaju barfi also use a paste of the ground cashew nut as their base. In Goan cooking, both the raw and the roasted forms of the nut are used.
The cashew apple or cashew fruit is the fleshy part of the fruit that grows above the nut. The cashew fruit is an accessory fruit. It is very often less popular than the nut because it is less easy to transport. The fruit has a sweet but astringent taste that can be attributed to the waxy layer on the skin that contains urushiol, a chemical that can cause a mild skin irritation for those who are allergic to it.
The cashew fruit has many uses both in cooking and sweet-making as well as being added to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. It can be fermented and used to make vinegar as well as alcoholic beverages such as feni and urak. It may also be used to make chutneys and jams.
The word feni comes from the Sanskrit word “phena” which means ‘froth’. This is thought to have originated due to the light froth that forms when the liquor is shaken or poured out. Feni is a pungent liquor that contains upto 45% alcohol, whilst urak is the first distillation and contains 15% alcohol. Since it is classified as “country liquor”, it is not available for sale outside of the state of Goa, where it is produced.
Traditionally only the cashew apples that had naturally ripened and fallen from the tree were used for the production of feni. The apples were then deseeded and taken to the stomping area, known as the ‘colmbi’. This was usually a rock that was cut into a basin-like shape. The process of stomping has gradually been replaced by crushing the apples with a press called a ‘pingre’.
After crushing the apples, the resulting pulp is then made into ‘patties’ by hand and bound using a vine known as ‘nudi’. These patties are then kept under a heavy weight and the juice thus extracted is known as ‘neero’. The neero can be drunk as is, and makes a very refreshing drink.
The fresh neero is then stored in an earthen bharni and buried in a cool place, to allow it to ferment. This pot, known as a ‘kodem’ is left half buried in the ground, for several days, so that the juice gets a chance to ferment properly.
Once the juice has fermented a traditional earthen pot known as ‘bhatti’ is used as the boiling pot for the distillation process. Nowadays the earthe vessel has been replaced by a copper pot known as ‘bhann’. The distillate is then collected in an earthen vessel known as ‘launni’. Traditionally the distillate was made to condense by continuously pouring cold water over the launni; however, in more recent times the condensation is caused by immersing a coil in cold water.
The first distillation is known as urak. Urak is a lighter alcoholic drink and has alcohol content of 15%. After the distillation of urak, the urak is mixed with fermented neero once more and distilled further. This second distillation is the cashew feni that is sold today; however, in olden times feni was the third distillation and the second distillation was called cajulo. the third distillation that took place was when cajulo was mixed once again with urak and re-distilled. This was then called feni. However, the alcohol content of this distillation is too high for consumption.
The cashew festival is held annually in Goa to celebrate the legacy of this fruit and nut. The festival offers an insight into the making of feni as well as urak. It is also a popular place to indulge in feni-based cocktails and drink, as well as authentic Goan food.
This year, 2017, the Cashew festival is being held at the Park Hyatt hotel in South Goa.