Friday, March 12, 2010

A Little Kallu Goes a Long Way

Kallu is is palm wine collected by "toddy tappers" and either drunk fresh or allowed to ferment and become alcoholic. The fermented kallu is absolutely rank and when I tried it with my family while they visited Kalleda, we were unable to drink more than a few small swallows. Coming from myself who has drunk more than my fair share of baijiu and other Asian liquors, and my father who even drank fenni (cashew liquor) in Goa, this refusal of fermented kallu is quite a statement! Fresh kallu, however, is another story all together and I am developing quite a taste for it . . .

Toddy tapper is a caste of workers who climb the very high palm trees and gather the palm wine that has collected in pots. They use a strap that looks like an inner tube and is looped around themselves and the tree (I always think of Moulin twisting the straps of weights together and climbing the pole to get the arrow at the top, and yes, I am referencing a Disney movie!). When they reach the top they brace their feet against the tree and lean back against the strap while they collect the wine. The process at the top of the tree takes about ten minutes so they also tie a strap around their feet to keep them from slipping apart. Each toddy tapper monitors about eight trees and they climb each one three times a day. That's 24 climbs a day with ten minutes at the top each time!

So the fermented kallu is disgusting and also potentially dangerous in an unsafe alcohol, moonshine, kind of way. But the fresh stuff is much better tasting (even though when strong it takes on the flavor of sour, old socks) and is not technically alcoholic, although I think it packs a little natural buzz. The freshest way to drink it is to wait under the tree and when the tapper reaches ground he pours the "white water" straight into a large leaf which you fold and hold over your mouth like a bowl/funnel. In the evening you can see groups of men squatting at the side of the road under toddy trees, leaves in hand, ready for their evening cocktail. Otherwise, you can request a toddy tapper to your house.

I am currently making friends with the owner of the house I live in over semi-regular evening kallu. I have met his friends, his workers, his favorite local toddy tapper, chatted to his daughter in America on the phone, been invited to visit his farm, and given access to his kitchen along with an offer of cooking lessons from his "Mrs". All of this over a few cups of kallu! If nothing else, the socializing possibilities and resulting opportunities make it more than worthwhile to develop a liking for kallu. And of course the hidden agenda of befriending a toddy tapper who will kit me up with one of those hot leather minis (really, that's what they wear) and a rubber strap so I can tap some toddy for myself!

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