Some Reservations

Was recently watching an episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain traveled to Kerala, India.

In the episode he visited two establishments which gave me pause, a Toddy Shop and a Tea Shop.

While I know the idea of “Punch” was likely adapted by the British from Indian Roots and the Indians have a pretty good claim on being among the first to distill spirits for consumption, I hadn’t given much thought to what else they may have contributed to drink culture.

Toddies and Slings, (more about Toddies and Slings in another post shortly,) are booze plus water, sugar, and maybe a garnish.  Along with Punch, they were among the most popular drinks in America during the early years of the country.

In India, Toddy Shops are bar-like places that serve Palm Wine and food.  Palm Wine is a fermented beverage made by harvesting the sap of Toddy Palm Trees.  It spontaneously ferments, making a low alcohol beverage similar to Mexican beverage Pulque.  These shops are gathering places for men, and often serve food as a sop to their Toddy, or maybe Toddy as a salve to the spicy Indian Food.  One way, or another, they are gathering places, where men, food, and alcoholic beverages converge.

It puzzles me how the word “Toddy” may have migrated to or from India, to refer to a ubiquitous American beverage of the 18th and 19th Century.

Another interesting visit was to a Tea Shop.  Much like the Toddy Shop, the Tea Shop was a social gathering place, where you would go to get your tea, have a snack, and converse with your neighbors and the proprietor to get the most recent local news and gossip.  Aside from this similarity to Taverns, I was struck by another interesting technique used by the women making the tea.  When they are pouring and mixing it they aerate it by pouring it between two metal mixing cups.  Called Yard Long Tea it was strange to see the mixing technique from the Blue Blazer and other famous 19th Century Bartenders being used to mix tea in India.

While Wayne Curtis’ recent article in the Atlantic, “Who Invented the Cocktail?“, traced some of the roots of bar culture and cocktails back to England, this episode of No Reservations got me wondering how much of what he credits to England in the article was borrowed from Indian culture.