Sunday, April 25, 2010

Goan Summer

If you are addicted to Goa like I am then usually the weather will not matter, even though the summer can be quite oppressive. April and May bring on the heat along with a stickiness in the air which makes outdoor movement between 10am and 4pm diffficult. Beating the heat is restricted to downing chilled beers and passing time in a shady pool (its even better if you're doing both at the same time).

There's one more trick that can help you beat the Goan heat, and that's a change of venue. On the Northern tip of Goa, touching the tri-state border of Goa with Karnataka and Maharashtra are the Chorla Ghats. They are very much Goa, and yet they are not. The experience is different and yet the language, cuisine and attitude is quintessentially Goan.

Chorla Ghats are about 65 Km from the Dabolim Airport and a similar distance from the tourist-infested Baga, though this thickly forested destination takes about 2 hours to reach because of the narrow roads (some of which are currently being widened and re-tarred) and winding ghats. These ghats fall on the road connecting Goa to NH17, which goes on to meet Belgaum.

The road driving up is bordered with yellow lines of flowers on both sides making the drive resemble a bending runway strip, the forest thickly shadows the road and provides a green canopy covering the sky, and there is a sweet, fragrant smell that even seeps through the closed air-conditioning vent of your vehicle. On being told about the origin of the smell, I realize that I have stumbled upon the great Goan secret of Feni brewing.  

The picture to the right shows an authentic, government-licensed, feni brewing plant or bhatti. A surprising fact I came to know was that while Cashew is not native to India and was imported by the Portugese seemingly to prevent soil errosion, India is the only country which brews the fruit of this magnificent plant. And who else could you credit such an amazing invention to but the enterprising Goans.  Feni in its most pure stage is actually used as medicine. Its intense heat is a cure for coughs and 10-20ml portions, flamed are often given to treat bad bouts  of cold in children. Grown up men use the same drink to treat bad bouts of reality.

But here we talk about a little known brew, the precursor of Feni, a wonderful drink called Hurrak. The Hurrak is the first stream of cashew alcohol. This drink when redistilled twice evolves into Feni. The beaten cashew fruit is put in water and fermented for about 8 days. After this the liquid is distilled in earthen pots over slow fire to condense into drums which filter down to drip as Hurrak. I picked up a bottle of this brew and got a bargain in Forty Rupees for the liter (because the bottle I used was my own). The drink has luckily survived the check-in baggage handlers and rests in my refrigerator.

The Hurrak is a light, fragrant drink that reminds me of slightly over-fermented toddy. The taste is like Vodka and so is the heat. Hurrak concoctions are only supposed to be had in the summers and even its brewing is stopped as soon as the rains begin. (I am yet to fathom the reason for this). It stores well in the fridge for about 3-4 months, and like other local alcohols, it unfortunately has an expiry date.

A friend, Raju Nayak, Editor of leading paper in Goa, and a connoisseur of good beverages has recently introduced me to a cocktail with Hurrak base, which I have named Goan Summer. It is refreshing and can be had in large quantities and it has no nasty next day after-effects even after copious consumption. (I can vouch for it as I have emperical evidence to support the claim)

Goan Summer

- 45 ml chilled Hurrak (Raju suggests 90ml or half-quarter)
- Chilled Soda
- Salt (two pinches)
- Quarter of lime
- Limca or any lime based areated drink


- Add 45 ml Hurrak, salt and squeeze quarter lime (and drop it) in a cocktail glass
- Add chilled Soda and one finger of the lime based drink.
- Crust with salt (crusting requires you to run the lime on the rim of the glass and tap the glass on a thin bed of salt)

[You'll regret it if you run out of Hurrak so make some Goan friends quickly]