During your boat cruise or while on a trip across the village, one thing that may have caught your attention is a small thatched building with a black board outside with ‘Kallu’ written boldly in white. This is a traditional toddy shop in Kumarakom, though now many have tiled or concrete roofs.
Toddy is the indigenous Kerala beverage extracted from the inflorescence of the coconut tree. Tourists could, on request, be taken to see toddy tappers extracting sap by incising the inflorescent stalk using a special knife that they carry on a hand-made, natural waist belt.
The toddy is collected in a clay pot. Freshly extracted toddy is sweet in taste and is called madhura kallu - sweet toddy. On fermentation, the sap will taste sour and will then give a kick. The sweet toddy is used as an ingredient in kallappams or hoppers, a dish made in Kerala houses with rice flour.
The toddy shops in Kumarakom are often furnished with wooden benches and tables and the liquor is served in clay pots. Malayalam film songs or music from the radio is played in most places.
One cannot talk about a toddy shop without mentioning the lip-smacking food there. The well-flavoured curries are known for their tanginess and spiciness, probably to appeal to the customers in various states of inebriation. Rice, mashed tapioca and fish curry, crab curry, mussels fry, Pearl Spot baked in banana leaf, frog leg curry, duck roast, spicy pickles and various delicious meat preparations are available in most of the toddy shops. A hot, spicy dish in combination with the sweet or sour brew is a great combination.