Myanmar’s traditional wine or toddy nectar

Toddy nectar, a poem to drunken youth

In my younger days, Omar Khayyam the Persian poet made me fall in love with one of his philosophy, which goes like this:

“Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine, roses and drunken friends. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”

Reading his poem, I felt like wine had become my favorite drink already though I’d never tasted it before. However, I had a chance to drink toddy nectar (so called Myanmar traditional wine) after my final day at high school in Mandalay.

As you may know, toddy palms are abundant in central Myanmar. They are also the characteristic feature of upper Myanmar. Many artists describe the groups of toddy palms as heavenly oasis offering a shade from the scorching heat in a dry landscape. Not only as a shady heaven, its nectar also serves our consumption needs.

The day before the exam finished, my friend proposed a plan to go out and have some toddy nectar. I didn’t even take a second to say yes. We got to one of the famous toddy cafés in Mandalay and ordered for three pots of toddy juice. That’s when we had a chance to watch how the toddy juice is collected right from the tree for the first time, which got me stunned.

Getting toddy juice is a high-risk task requiring an advanced climbing skill and cool confidence, especially from a very high trunk (can be up to sixty feet or above). The tools of the toddy climber are very simple: a sharp knife, a cluster of pots tucked with rope on his waist and a longyi. A skillful climber makes it to the tree easily. As he reached closer to the top of the tree, a small ladder led him to the palm shoots. The small pots, made of compressed earth, are placed directly below the shoots so that the juice flows right down to the collecting pot.

The climber trimmed the shoot with his knife, collected the nectar in the shoot till it is full. He then tucked the pot back around his waist. Grabbing the other empty pot, he continued collecting nectar from more shoots. The steps went repeatedly till all pots were full. We were looking at him in awe, amazed and very impressed. He was a really great climber and I couldn’t imagine how he got trained to climb at such a risky height on palm trees! Once he reached the ground and delivered the pots to his assistant, he continued climbing another tree. Meanwhile, the assistant emptied the pot and poured it in the cups to serve us.

This is how my dream wine got served right at the table. Not an easy task at all. We really enjoyed the fresh juice, glass after glass and came back together with drunken moves. Had my favorite poet, Omar Khayyam, tried this nectar from palm trees, he might have narrated his poem about toddy nectar instead of wine.