Desperate situations need out-of-the-box solutions. Last summer, the pandemic became catastrophic and people began to die like flies on the floor of overcrowded Government hospitals because private hospitals were not willing to accept patients who were close to the last gasp.
When it became known that our hands and other surfaces could be disinfected from coronavirus using alcohol, the mind of ingenious Goans immediately conjured the good old bottle of cashew feni for internal sanitisation!
Younger folks, who found that ‘medicine’ too strong, simply settled for a double dose of urrak. It may not have rid us of the disease, but it certainly kept the virus too drunk to bother us.
HOW IT’S MADE
The first product with ‘Geographical Indication’ (GI) for Goa had to be feni; what else! So, it was. However, urrak is the mother of feni and needs to be recognized as well.
There are natural yeasts on ripe cashew ‘apples’ that make the juice ferment spontaneously. In three to five days, the fermentation is complete and the ‘must’ is ready to be distilled into that heavenly spirit, called urrak.
The alcohol fumes are allowed to blow in the wind for a few minutes to get rid of the ’head’, or a small amount of methanol that is produced during the fermentation. The remaining fumes of ethanol are condensed by the application of cold water.
The traditional distillation unit was made out of locally available materials, including the round-bottom flask, known as the moddki, made of clay and the ‘condenser’ (or lavnni), consisting of a buddkulo or small pot placed above a clay trough (known as kodem) and a coconut shell ladle with a bamboo handle (called dovllo).
A copper pot has replaced the moddki, and a brass or aluminium coil, condenser immersed in a water tank, has replaced the lavnni.
Like the Monitor Lizard, or ghaar hide for the ghumott, only the lavnni urrak or feni will satisfy the traditionalists. If one drinks urrak with lime, lemon, green chilli or aerated drinks, such niceties really do not matter. It is like drinking Scotch with a cola or orange fizz.
FLAVOUR OF THE SEASON
The original feni, which was distilled from coconut toddy, is almost forgotten. So is arrak, except in Sri Lanka.
The cashew tree may have been brought from Brazil, just like the Carnival, but it is spiritually, a Goan. No one in Goa will complain if history is re-written and the cashew is reclassified as Anacardium indica instead of Anacardium occidentale. It is close to our hearts, though the word ‘cardium’ stands for its sea shell shape.
We produce the world’s best cashew nuts in Goa. Our sussegado or ‘live and let live’ attitude allows the cashew to ripen on the tree and fall to the ground. This is the best practice in the trade for urrak, feni and roasted cashew nuts!
Whether we say ‘Viva Carnaval!’ or ‘Osai, Osai!’ at Shigmo and Holi, the spirit of the season is urrak. When we have had enough, the balance is mixed with half as much quantity of fermented cashew juice to obtain the dhedd-toddop, or feni, to keep us in good spirits till the next summer.
WHERE YOU CAN GET YOUR URRAK FIX
BOTTLED URRAK: 'Cajulana', a packaged brand of urrak, is available year round, and is priced at approx ₹ 200 for a 750 ml bottle
FRESH URRAK: Fresh urrak is available in local bars during summer, with prices ranging between ₹ 200 to ₹ 300