Kerala: Land of coconuts and our first real taste of toddy

Kerala, the mother and fatherland of Chris, literally means “land of coconuts.” “Kerala” comes from two words: “kera” meaning coconuts, and “alam” meaning “land.” And it’s no wonder that Kerala is named what it’s named because literally everywhere you look and turn, there are coconut trees everywhere. It’s kind of like being in Hawaii: even if you were poor and homeless, if you had the ability to climb a tree, you’d have food.

Today, we took an all-day tour to Allepey to ride on a private boat along the backwaters of Kerala. Allepey is not only the place where Chris’s nana was born, but it’s also a popular destination for backwater boat rides and stays in Kerala. In India, Kerala is not only known for having the highest literacy rate, but it’s also known for being a popular domestic honeymoon destination. One of the things I looked forward to most here was being able to finally try the ever elusive “toddy,” a sweet, naturally fermented drink that is produced from the sap of coconut trees in the state. When first tapped from a coconut tree, the toddy is already a bit fermented, but after a few hours, and then a few days, the strength of the alcohol gets higher and higher. Our guide had us stop at a toddy shop along the water, and we hopped off for a glass of toddy each.

We each ordered a glass of toddy, tapped fresh this morning, and it was certainly a unique flavor: slightly sweet, almost rice-like in flavor, with an interesting light effervescence that is quite similar to that of kombucha. The closest thing I could compare it to that we’d had previously on our travel was makgeolii, the raw rice wine we drank from a local drinking spot in Busan, Korea. After having tasted this, I could already imagine how much more delicious appams could be if made with fresh toddy. Appams were something I didn’t know about before Chris. When I met his family, his mom made some appams from a mix (by the way, I usually hate on boxed mixes, but seriously, India takes “mixes” to a whole other level — the quality is high, and there’s never any preservatives in these things! HOW DO THEY DO THIS??!), but I was hooked and knew I had to try making it myself. While they are still tasty using mixes and/or yeast, the flavor of course would not be the same as when made authentically with fresh toddy. Unfortunately, from what Chris’s mom shared, as well as our guide, fresh appams made with fresh toddy is almost like a relic of the past; people just don’t make it this way anymore, and if they do, it’s only for very special occasions like Easter dinner.

The cute part of our visit to the toddy shop was when Pookster saw us both drinking the toddy and thought it was milk. She started reaching for it, and when we wouldn’t give to to her, she had a bit of a melt down. Having her alongside us on this trip has definitely made this India visit completely different (and in some ways, more exciting and more of an adventure) than back in June-July 2018 when we first went as a family of two. It’s been exhausting, but I keep telling myself that all these moments will pass us, so we have to enjoy her at every stage for what and who she is. And it’s moments like this, when she confuses toddy for milk, when I really smile and think, wow, it feels so good to be here with her and know that she’s our sweet, rambunctious baby.

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