We were about 17, 18 and 19, when my cousins and I snuck into my father’s room who was enjoying a drink with my uncle. We had obviously planned the timing, we saw our uncle buying a crate of beer from Baga beach, moments before we took our cab back to our hotel, and this time, we wanted in. For how else were we supposed to go back to Delhi and face our friends? How would we tell them that we went to Goa and tried no alcohol? The elders were seemingly perplexed at our demands. They refused to give us any beer but offered us some Feni instead. The local spirit of Goa that is made of fermented cashews. We were proud of our negotiating powers and came back with a glassful of Feni. Ever since then, I have been rather fascinated by the idea of local alcohol and spirits. From Lugdi of Manali to Toddy of Kerala or Chhaang of Sikkim, the subcontinent is replete with indigenous, intoxicating beverages, many of which often escape the regular taboos associated with alcohol as such. For example, Salfi, which is a beer that is very popular in tribal areas of Bastar, Chattisgarh.

A beer that needs no hour-long brewing, Salfi, is collected from the sap of Salfi tree. The tree is very significant to the rural region. In Bastar, people are still rooted to culture, most of their culinary requirements are untouched by inorganic, machine-produced, or processed items. The use of local vegetables, farm animals is very common. The Salfi tree is not found in many places in India, Bastar’s climate is not only conducive for the tree to stand tall and survive, but the tree has also been an intrinsic part of Bastar natives since time immemorial.  

Men climb up the tree and perch themselves on either side of the trunk, they suspend an earthen pot with the help of a rope on a branch and make a cut using Haasiya to allow the sap to flow into the earthen pot. The beer has a smooth, mild flavour, it looks a lot of coconut water but is not as sweet, in fact, it is slightly bitter, pungent towards the end.

 

As far as its fermentation is concerned, the yeast in the air starts the fermentation of the sap as soon as it starts dripping from the branch, and more often than not, the left-over yeast at the base of the container also aids the process. The collection of sap is typically done at sunrise and sometimes around sunset. But do bear in mind, make sure you drink your Salfi fresh. That is, within an hour after it is collected from the branch. Salfi, does not have the longest shelf life. Since natural fermentation is an ongoing process, if it is fermented in excess, it could give you a very bad tummy.  

Have you ever tried Salfi? Do let us know how you liked it.