There has been a lot of buzz in the local media about neera lately — about its health benefits, about how the state government is encouraging neera production, about neera being an exciting new opportunity that farmers should tap into (if you’ll excuse the pun), about the neera parlors that would come up all over the state, etc. — but there has been no sign of the drink itself anywhere but in the newspapers. True, a neera outlet had been opened in the Vyttila Mobility Hub; but Vyttila is too far off to travel to for just a taste of neera. Then I came face to face with the drink most unexpectedly; after completing the Spice Coast half-marathon in November last year, a volunteer offered me neera. The first sip turned me instantly into a fervent neera fan. The taste is indescribable; it is a sweet drink with a unique natural flavor. Neera is not a fruit juice; it is a sap, and as I drank, I felt a strong connection with the parent tree. I consumed two more packs of neera before I was sated.
Therefore, when I saw the above signboard at the Edapally bus stop, I immediately got off the bus though my destination was much farther off. This is probably only the second neera parlor (see photo below) in the city. Why are neera parlors located outside the city? I can think of more than one conspiracy theory. 🙂 (Just the other day I was sitting in my uncle’s house, discussing neera. Husband and wife are in their seventies, born and brought up in Kerala, and haven’t yet tasted neera. They desperately want to, but it’s not available in the city.)
I consumed a couple of bottles on the spot; it was as delicious and refreshing as I remembered it after my half-marathon. I’d wondered sometimes if it was the runner’s high that was responsible for my out-of-the-body neera experience that day. But no, the magic resided in the drink itself. I took a few bottles home for my sons to sample.
So, what is neera? To quote Wikipedia, “Neera, also called sweet toddy or palm nectar, is a sap extracted from the inflorescence of various species of toddy palms.” Here in Kerala, I think neera is obtained from coconut trees. I wish the government — and private players — would market the drink aggressively. I also wish the government would pay a little attention to neera’s wild cousin, toddy. Now that the government has got its way and prohibition has been imposed in Kerala, all there is to drink in bars in Kerala is the horse piss that passes for beer. Can’t the government show the drinkers of Kerala a little love and at least promote toddy bars? A few noises to this effect have been made from time to time, but most toddy shops remain dingy, depressing places.
Toddy could do with an injection of the kind of interest the government has shown in neera. Toddy needs an image makeover. Currently, it’s looked down upon as the drink of the working class. But toddy can be promoted as an ethnic drink, God’s own beer. I hope the government wakes up from its slumber and begins to tap the full potential of toddy. There are a handful of toddy shops in the state that are renowned for their ethnic food; a little effort here on the part of the government and private players can add a new dimension to the food and drink landscape of the state, besides boosting tourism.
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