How Not Knowing Penang Toddy Shops Makes You a Rookie
“Do women come to the Toddy Shop,” I asked Ravi Arumugam the “barman” of the local watering hole in Pulau Tikus, Penang. I looked across the street where Markus Modern Italian Cuisine serves modern Italian cuisine & wines from various wine regions in Italy. What a contrast! This is the appeal and charm of Penang.
“Why not? You are here, so come drink.”
Kumar offered me a green plastic mug filled to the brim with cloudy toddy.
I gamely took a sip; it certainly has a strong smell, sweetish, slightly fizzy and light. I swear I could feel its heat as the toddy travels to the pit of my stomach.
The toddy inn is definitely different from your regular bar. Everything goes here and the guys are cool about it.
Riding in on your motorcycle? No problem. Parking indoors? That’s cool too.
If you’re a fan of plastic, they’re cool with plastic mugs here. Like a little cocktail mix?
Why not, have toddy mixed with a cola drink.
What is Palm Toddy?
Palm wine or toddy is served a sweet, non-alcoholic beverage derived from fresh coconut sap usually drunk soon after fermentation.
Toddy is white and sweet with a characteristic flavor and contains between 4 and 6% alcohol.
It has a short shelf life of about 24 hours and can be extended if it is refrigerated, however it becomes more sour and acidic by the end of the day,
The origins of the “Caged Bar”
The “caged” bar.
Interestingly the set up is the same for most toddy inns.
The patrons chillaxing and the barman is behind the metal cage which is incidentally unlocked!
Since young, I’ve had a strange fascination for the toddy bar and wanted to know how the operations “behind the counter”.
Ravi gamely invited me in for a view out. It has a tiled countertop, lots of colorful plastic mugs stacked high. Clean white towels covering the counter.
And hanging on the cage a “kuda” or “men riding horses” calendar. It is the must-have in Malaysia. Even office workers have a mini version on their desk instead of a desktop calendar.
Lots of recycle mineral water bottle for takeaways. “Tapau is no problem,” said Ravi.
Is Palm Toddy good for health?
“It’s a health drink, 100% natural good like coconut water with a kick. Plenty vitamins and can clean out your system.”
Moderate consumption of fresh palm toddy is good as it contains the right amount of antioxidants, Vitamin B1, B2, and Vitamin C which helps in maintaining good eye health.
The happy guys laughed and cheered each other along. Ravi took me behind the metal “cage” counter to see where the toddy is kept. It was in a large glazed earthen pot with a wooden cover.
“Ah, I don’t make it, other people make it. I only have a license to sell,” Ravi says as he scooped up a mug full.
The bar set is basic. Long tables, long wooden benches, and the bartender firmly secured behind the cage.
“It’s not fermented coconut water but the flower sap of palm tree. It’s collected in jars and the old yeast in the used jars ferments it.
A fresh batch is always best. So come early, say 2 pm.”
The best job in the world is a Toddy Bartender
“I have the best job where all my customers are happy with me! I’m a toddy seller for the past 14 years and my customers have become more than friends.
They are like brothers to me. We sit around after a hard day’s work.”
“Last time, people say only Indian laborers drink toddy.
Now, this is not true. My best customers are Chinese actually. I have Indian and Malay customers. All Muhibbah. Japanese ladies come to buy back home. Europeans. Spanish, Italian, English tourist peek in, come to try and have a drink here.”
“Chinese customers will buy this to mix with beer. More popular is mix toddy with Guinness Foreign Extra Stout for a real kick”
“My prices are reasonable. A mug is RM2.50 and a 1.5-liter bottle is RM6.50,” Ravi quips, “Affordable,” he grins.
So the next time you want to try something different for a natural high, head on down to the two Toddy Shop in George Town area, Kedai Tuak Lorong Pasar and
Kedai Tuak Jalan Cantonment, Penang. See the full list of Toddy Shop in Penang and Butterworth here.
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