Toddy – Reflecting the True Sprit and Taste of Kerala Cuisine

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Image – Bobinson K B/Flickr

The ideal place for relaxation and some much-needed me-time, Kerala is a dream destination for many. Visiting Kerala is, indeed, like knocking on the door of God’s own country. Why you ask? Because the soothing atmosphere, wide rolling hills, thundering waterfalls, and pacifying nature is nothing less than divine. Kerala is well known all over the world as one of the best places in India and it is rightly so. As you are probably aware, Kerala is well renowned for its magnificent backwaters, startling houseboats, and of course, the spices which it produces. Being a major producer of spices, Kerala also boasts of a highly flavorsome and unique cuisine. And you know that any foodie like me would be more than elated to grab hold of the mouth-watering dish this fascinating state has to provide.

While the delicious Idiyappam, Dosas, and Puttu curry are most widely regarded as the Malabar cuisine; one popular drink is also enjoyed almost everywhere in Kerala – the Toddy drink. When you visit Kerala, it will be hard for the large placards and boards reading ‘Toddy’ to go unnoticed. Toddy is an alcoholic (can also be nonalcoholic) drink and is essentially palm wine with a sweet flavor. This splendid drink is made from the sap of coconut trees and its counterpart, which is unfermented, is a non-alcoholic drink known as neera.

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Toddy sapper – Sumanth K. Garakarajula/Flickr

The Toddy drink is available for consumption throughout the year and its making is extremely interesting to know about. If you are lucky enough to witness the tapping of Toddy, you’ll see that the toddy tappers start by cautiously choosing a good, healthy palm tree. Then, by using a sort of pseudo-ladder, the men climb up the tree and the buds of the flower are cut open. This is followed by beating and pounding the flower bud with the use of a hammer until it is swollen. Then, eventually, a few clay plots are attached to the beaten buds until the milky liquid is collected in the pots. Lime is then added to the drink to prevent the drink from getting fermented. The Toddy is, subsequently, distributed to licensed Toddy shops where they’re sold in bottles. Aside from drinking purposes, this spectacular drink is often used in the kitchen to create traditional recipes as well. Even though the Toddy drink contains alcohol, it is considered to be healthy. It is what is called ‘Natural alcohol’ due to its low percentage of alcohol content.

Toddy Fermenting
Toddy Fermenting – Rajesh_India/Flickr

Toddy tappers have to be healthy and strong to carry out their respective profession. The athletic tasks of climbing numerous trees every single day are certainly dangerous and exhausting and have to be done with utmost caution. Several incidents have been reported stating the tragic death or injuries of toddy tappers who badly hurt themselves while climbing trees. According to statistics, about 40 percent or less of Kerala’s population engages in this trade. The Ezhava (also known as Thiyya), a community from the North of Malabar, most extensively function as the Toddy tappers of Kerala. A daunting career, indeed!

However, while tourists are attracted and excited to try out this alluring drink, there are a few precautions that one must take. To experience the drink in its original form, care must be taken that the drink is unadulterated. Local sellers tend to mix spirit in the drink to increase its toxicity. Therefore, it is recommended to have Toddy from trusted shops or those which are fairly isolated from the cities.

Toddy Shop – Bobinson BK/Flickr

Toddy shops are not frequently found all over Kerala. Right now, while the demand remains high, the supply seems to be decreasing day by day. Hence, do keep an eye out for those tiny Toddy shops. For the longest time, these shops have been structured to be crudely built shack. They are usually visited by men who watch sports on the television in the shop while sipping the Toddy. One of the best places to drink fresh and delicious Toddy is in the backwaters of Alleppey. After taking a relaxing boat ride in the backwaters of Alleppey, do make it a point to stop by one of those tiny Toddy shops and sip the drink.

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Image/Mikhail Esteves/Flickr

Toddy tapping has been around in the state of Kerala for quite some time now. The majority of Kerala’s population has been in the profession of Toddy tapping in the earlier times. There is no denying that Toddy tapping has always been an integral part of Kerala’s cuisine and heritage. Moreover, the popularity of the drink is well established by how frequently drink is sought after by tourists and non-residents of the state. Interestingly, since ‘Coconut Vodka’ has been prohibited in several states in India and countries abroad, this makes the experience of tasting the flavors of this magical drink in Kerala even more memorable.

Therefore, it would be sensible to say that by tasting Toddy, you’ll taste the essence of Kerala. After all, the true sense of a place is embedded in its culture and traditions. Whether it may be an impromptu trip or a planned one, a pit stop to drink Toddy when in Kerala is something you definitely won’t regret. That, my friend, is the true identity of Kerala.

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