Meet the Toddy Tappers Behind Sri Lanka's Favourite Tipples
trying at least one glass of toddy is a must
One of the most impressive and surreal sights awaiting visitors to Sri Lanka, according to many clients of bespoke specialist Experience Travel Group, is the spectacle of intrepid toddy tappers scaling swaying palm trees without a safety rope or harnesses in sight. It's a captivating yet nail-biting mission to tap flower sap from Kithul or coconut palms, which is fermented to form the basis of two of Sri Lanka's most beloved boozy drinks, 'Toddy’ and the fiery 'Arrack'.
Indika Suresh, pictured, is one of around 200 full-time toddy tappers working in Sri Lanka. He started out working in his family's toddy shop, and 'learnt the ropes' from his father. The job provides enough income for Indika to support his wife and three children, plus a nice little sideline from tourists stopping to take photos of him at work.The challenge for hardy toddy tappers like Indika is that their quarry is usually found 60 – 100 metres up in the air, and theirs is a constant process of going from palm to palm to get the right flowers at the right time – hence the network of ropes traversing the treetops. To collect the sap, the tappers beat the flower over a few days, which aids the fermentation process, and then tie a labu Katey container underneath to collect the sap, often overnight and sometimes twice a day. The harvested sap can be drunk straight away - i.e. as Toddy - or mixed with yeast ready to be distilled into Arrack.
Trying at least one glass is a must on any holiday to Sri Lanka. A delicious 'entry level' option for first-timers is an Arrack Mojito, a popular choice at many of the country's converted colonial boutique hotels. Purists meanwhile always drink it on the rocks, or with a dash of water. Indika meanwhile says he's a bit immune to it these days, but enjoys a nice glass of Arrack and soda on a special occasion. Toddy tappers are found in a few areas of Sri Lanka, primarily along the west coast. Experience Travel Group recommends a privately guided bicycle tour around Chilaw and Bentota - where Indika is based - to see the sheer scale of the toddy tapping 'industry' in action.
Experience Travel Group co-founder Sam Clark says “We love nothing more than curating memorable adventures for curious travellers – people who want to get out there and really connect with a destination, and come home with different stories to tell. We believe that holidays in Asia can be as intrepid as you like and as luxurious as you choose, but above all, they should leave you with treasured lifelong memories.”Highlights of Experience Travel Group's Sri Lanka's Relaxed South Coast tour include a privately guided bicycle tour of Bentota, with an opportunity to meet some of Sri Lanka's full-time toddy tappers. For further information and reservations call tel: +44 (0)20 33557873 or visit www.experiencetravelgroup.com.
Experience Travel Group specialises in bespoke holidays for passionate travellers who don't believe in choosing between luxury and adventure. Experts in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia and India, Experience Travel Group tailor-makes trips that enrich their clients' travel experiences.
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