Friday, October 2, 2009

Toddy and seafood make excellent companions

Mention that you are a toddy drinker and your perceived social standing will drop a few notches. Enter a typical toddy shop and you will understand why. A relic from the days of the British, toddy shops are still surviving in Kuala Lumpur, and they are of the same ilk in terms of décor. Pardon me....what décor? Dubbed “poor man’s pub”, a typical toddy shop is usually a shack with a zinc roof, with crude wooden long tables and long benches. Behind the wire screens of cubicles are large vats of toddy. The “bar-tender” sells the "devil’s brew” in bottles costing RM3 each. Plastic mugs have to be rented if patrons want to drink the stuff there.

Toddy, which has been given a glorified name “heavenly drink” is a cheap alcoholic beverage with a mild kick. It is tapped from the inflorescence or part of it (such as the peduncle) of either the coconut palm, the nipa palm or the sugar palm. Tapping begins when the tree is about six years old. The unopened flower spathe (or sheath) at the top of the tree is first bruised by pummeling it lightly with a club. Then a mass of coir or fibre is wrapped round the spathe leaving the tip free. This is to prevent the spathe from opening. After three weeks, the spathe is ready to produce toddy, and 3cm to 6cm is sliced off. Next day, the juice is collected and at the same time, a thin slice is shaved off from its end. The juice is poured into earthenware pots and allowed to ferment until it turns milky white.

My first visit to a toddy plantation was about 15 years ago in Sungei Siput, about 10km from Ipoh. A customer from a toddy shop in Ipoh happily guided me there, after I had belanja him a couple of mugs. The toddy tapper’s wife was friendly and talkative. According to her, toddy was introduced by the British to assuage the tedium of toil in estate workers; however, it resulted in social ills; it also resulted in several Indian babies having been born with blue eyes! Puzzled, I asked what she meant. She claimed that some British estate managers after having consumed too much toddy, lost their inhibitions and slept with their female workers! So… the British were not just planting rubber in then Malaya.

Well, want to try toddy? Go to Jalan Berhala in Brickfields, KL. A toddy shop is tucked behind the Palm Court condominium. However, you need not drink toddy in a rundown shop with a rough crowd as your companions. Several excellent seafood restaurants in Telok Gong also serve the "palm beer". Out of curiosity, yours truly tried a bottle while partaking of a delicious seafood lunch at Coconut Seafood Restaurant in Telok Gong. The toddy tasted a bit sweet, exuded a sourish aroma like vinegar, and was quite nice. It was an excellent complement to the seafood dishes.


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