Like many toubabs, when I first tried palm wine, I was not that impressed. The description that sprang to mind was like slightly fermented version of the liquid that you find sitting on top of set yoghurts. It wasn’t until I visited the Karoninke Islands, in the mangrove swamps near our home, that I tried it fresh from the tree and was enchanted by its sweetness. I realised that this jungle juice was nectar of the Gods and what I’d drunk previously was old and probably mixed with well water.
Palm wine, known locally as “bounok” (pronounciation: boo-nook) and in parts of Asia as toddy, is the sap from the palm tree. It’s natural and healthy – some say it helps prevent malaria. Even after 5 litres in an evening with no water I’ll feel fully refreshed with zero head ache or hang over the next morning.
My next blog will document a trip I made last week into the jungles of Guinea Bissau, in search of the purest sweetest bounok.
In the meantime, here’re my tips on how to enjoy bounok:
Firstly, take some funnels from palm leaves:
Tap the tree and attach an old water bottle:
Go back a few hours later and collect your bounok.
Skim off any scum, bees and ants and gulp it down – warm, fresh and sweet from the tree.
If you’re a bit crazy, like my friend Jack, leave it in the sun for a day or two to ferment further.
Top tip – it tastes better from a dung encrusted old plastic container:
A better tip – drink communally from a central calabash using specialised bounok drinking cups.
Nb: the blog title, Palm Wine Drinkard, refers to a classic novel by the Nigerian author Amos Tutuola. It’s been sat on my shelf a while and I’ll read it soon. It’s about a man, crazy for bounok, and who passes into the spirit world in search of his dead tapper.