Five centuries after Goans began making feni — a pungent, fermented liquor not for the faint-hearted — a new crop of distillers is hoping to take the spirit global.
But first, they have to convince other Indians to drink it.
Usually made from crushed cashew apples or coconut palm sap, the potent beverage has in recent decades fallen out of favor in Goa — a former Portuguese colony south of Mumbai — with the arrival of foreign liquor brands.
“I wanted to translate traditional knowledge for a modern audience,” said Hansel Vaz, whose Cazulo distillery uses centuries-old techniques to make feni while inventing cocktails that are easy on the nose and smooth on the palate.
Production is limited to the cashew apple harvesting season from February to May, with custom dictating that only the fruit that falls to the ground is ripe enough to be used for feni.
While more modern distilleries use metal crushers to extract the juice for fermentation, at Cazulo the cashew apple — its nut removed — is dumped into a stone basin carved into the ground.
A barefoot farm worker holds on to ropes and stomps the fruit until the juice is extracted and transferred into underground clay pots.
After three days, the fermented liquid is boiled and distilled. Fresh juice is then added to it for a second round of distillation.
‘RITE OF PASSAGE’
Feni’s strength was traditionally measured by looking at the size of the bubbles formed when it’s poured into a glass.
Today, distillers use alcohol meters or take a sip to infer the quality of the tipple.
The liquor historically played an important role in Goan society, according to Biula Pereira, who has written a book about the spirit first concocted after the Portuguese brought cashews to the colony in the 16th century.
“Feni was used for every occasion, for every rite of passage. It also served a medicinal purpose as a remedy for the common cold and fever,” she said.
Vaz’s grandfather drank it daily, but by the dawn of the 21st century, younger Goans had little appetite for its fiery pleasures.
As he watched gin and mezcal take over the world, Vaz, then a geologist working overseas, felt a compulsion to revive his family business and “make feni cool.”
“It was about expressing our cultural identity,” said the 38-year-old of his ambition to create a market for premium bottled feni made in Goa.
That sense of local pride is at the heart of many feni businesses.
The director of Madame Rosa distillery Mac Vaz — no relation to Hansel — said his mission was to end the “colonial hangover” that prompts some Indians to dismiss local products in favor of imported goods.
But as a teetotaller who only took his first sip of feni aged 23, he realized firsthand that new patrons would need some coaxing to down their drinks.
At Cazulo, guests are invited to watch the feni-making process before sampling the spirit on its own as well as in cocktails with guava juice, lime and other mixers.
The efforts seem to be paying off.
At a recent Madame Rosa tasting session, businesswoman Shamina Shamji, who always steered clear of feni because it was “too sharp, too strong,” warmed to the mango and feni cocktail she was nursing.
“I would definitely order this at a bar,” the 50-year-old said.
Goan brands are looking to tap a growing market of cosmopolitan and adventurous Indians.
Madame Rosa already exports to eight countries, including the US, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.
They produce up to 5,000 cases of feni a year under multiple brand names, with each bottle costing up to 1,500 rupees (US$20).
But national regulations make it difficult for feni to be sold outside the state because the spirit is officially classified as “country liquor.”
Many Indians also associate that designation with illegally-brewed alcohol that lands people in hospital — a marketing nightmare for feni producers.
Others warn that rapid expansion could dilute the very essence of feni they are trying to preserve.
“It’s not about slapping on a fancy label and making a quick buck,” said Hansel Vaz of Cazulo, which has exported to North America, Southeast Asia and Europe.
“It is a traditional craft. You can’t mass-produce it.”
Afghan youth rights activist Wazhma Sayle says she was shocked to see a photograph online, apparently of women dressed in black all-enveloping niqabs and gowns, staging a demonstration in support of the country’s new Taliban rulers at Kabul University. The 36-year-old, who is based in Sweden, later posted a photograph of herself on Twitter dressed in a bright green and silver dress captioned: “This is Afghan culture & how we dress! Anything less then this does not represent Afghan women!” “It’s a fight for our identity,” Sayle said in a telephone interview. “I don’t want to be identified the way Taliban showed
In an industrial unit on the outskirts of Taipei chefs are plating meals that will never be served in a restaurant: welcome to the world of “ghost kitchens.” Even before the pandemic sent an earthquake through the global restaurant trade, the “Amazonification” of commercial kitchens was well underway, but coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions have fueled explosive growth in Asia. The recent boom in food delivery apps meant customers were already used to having restaurant quality meals quickly delivered to their homes. To meet that demand a growing number of restaurants set up delivery only kitchens — also known as “cloud kitchens”
Late last week the commentariat was stirred by a TVBS poll published on Thursday showing that pro-China dinosaur, college professor and fringe presidential contender Chang Ya-chung (張亞中) was leading establishment dinosaur Eric Chu (朱立倫) 30.6 percent to 27.5 percent in a poll of Chinese National Party (KMT) members. Current KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), considered “youthful” at nearly 50, trailed with a dismal 12.8 percent. TVBS is generally regarded as pro-KMT and so would have little reason to diddle the numbers, which show that Chu, the fair-haired boy of the party’s elites, has been in a slide since the beginning of
Miao Lin-Zucker (林季苗) wanted to teach Taiwanese how to speak French; instead she’s helping the French learn Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese). As of last week, nearly 120 people had expressed interest in the first ever Hoklo classes (listed as Taiwanais in French) offered by Les Cours d’Adultes de Paris, one of the largest public language learning institutions in France. The courses begin online next month. “It’s getting easier to explain Taiwan to people here due to its recent international visibility,” Lin-Zucker says. “So it doesn’t seem as strange anymore to promote a Taiwanese Hoklo class. I’m not training language experts