Feni, a unique alcoholic drink of Goa, is one of the most popular Indian alcoholic beverages. It is so popular with beach vacationers that trips to Goa are incomplete without sips of Feni drink on the beaches of Goa. The history of Portuguese Feni is intertwined with the rich cultural heritage and maritime trade of Goa, a state located on the western coast of India. Feni, a traditional spirit made from cashew or coconut, holds a special place in Goan culture and has a fascinating historical background.
The origins of Feni can be traced back to the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa in the early 16th century. The Portuguese colonists introduced distillation techniques to the region, which were previously unknown to the local population. They brought along the knowledge and equipment required to produce spirits, including the alembic stills used for distillation.
Initially, the Portuguese focused on producing brandy using grapes, which was a common practice in their homeland. However, due to the unsuitable climatic conditions for grape cultivation in Goa, they began experimenting with alternative raw materials. This led to the discovery of the cashew apple, a fruit abundant in the region.
The cashew apple, which is not commonly consumed due to its astringent taste, proved to be an excellent source for distillation. The Portuguese realized that the juice extracted from the cashew apple had the potential to be transformed into a unique and flavorful spirit. Thus, they started producing Feni using the traditional distillation process.
Goa has been producing Feni for over 400 years in a typical Portuguese way that does not entail the use of electricity in the process. The process of making Goan Feni is a tedious one involving lots of effort. Goa has almost 4000 distillers who manufacture 70% of Feni drink for home consumption and the rest for markets.
Even the Feni distillation process is repeated three times. The juice obtained at the first phase of the distillation process is called Urrack. It is neither pungent nor aromatic. Urrak is further distilled into what is known as Cazulo. Cazulo has some intoxicating properties which become stronger in the final product, Feni. The Goan Feni has a long shelf life. It can be taken in a mix with soda, cola and lemon juice.
Feni is the first liquor product in the country to obtain ‘Heritage Drink’ status. Feni is a brew made from coconut or cashew fruits and is synonymous with the Goan ethos and identity. Feni was first manufactured in Goa in the 1600s after the Portuguese imported the cashew plant from Brazil to India. There are currently 26 varieties of feni manufactured in Goa. It is used in various cultural traditions, cuisines and is well known for its medicinal value also.
Post-pandemic, Feni enthusiasts are now trying to give it a modern makeover. It is now extremely trendy to add Feni to cocktails in fine dining restaurants and it is a great option to use due to its inherently sweet properties. Here is a list of places in Goa that serve delicious Feni cocktails. You can either make a note of these places for your next visit or try to make these cocktails at home yourself!
1. Firefly fire, Gunpowder, Assagao
With Cashew Feni at the base, this is a tangy cocktail that pairs great with the spicy South Indian fusion food that Gunpowder boasts of. This is a potent cocktail that is best limited to one or two drinks and it goes best with a masaledaar appetiser from the restaurant's 'small plates' section.
2. Goa Rumba, Viva Panjim, Panjim
An authentic Portuguese heritage home turned into a restaurant, Viva Panjim is an eatery that is usually filled with tourists. Opt for the sweet and tart Goa Rumba cocktail which has cashew Feni as its base - and you will not be disappointed.
3. Coco Bongo, Alila Diwa, Majorda
The Cazulo cocktail, called Coco Bongo, at Alila Diwa, is the perfect tropical cocktail - beats even the humble Pina Colada. With Coconut Feni at the base, and coconut water and cream infused in the cocktail, this drink is perfect to sip on while on a private beach along with some salty snacks.
4. Patrao’s Coffee, W Goa, Vagator
Ever tried the combination of coffee and feni? At W Goa, this combination is available and called Patrao’s Coffee, including espresso, brown sugar, simple syrup and whipped cream, garnished with cinnamon sticks and shaved dark chocolate. A great cocktail for afternoons when you need a bit of a pick-me-up.