Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Great drinks of the world, only slightly childish

I don't foray into food features too often, drink dissertations even less so, despite being a living organism who needs fluids to survive, and most of the drinks I drink out here being necessarily foreign and interesting.

That's mostly because when I was travelling by myself I'd usually choose menu options that look like they took the least time to prepare and consume, so I could get back to my room and get on with important business like writing rubbish like this. But when I'm travelling with company and there's someone to talk to while waiting and to watch get excited when the bland dish finally arrives, I have more time for experimentation.

Here are 10 drinks of the world that have made a big impression on me in the last few years. Hardly any of them are alcoholic, which is more down to a lack of interest than some kind of responsible lifestyle choice. Only some of them are childish. I liked most of them.

Oishi green tea with roasted barley (Thailand)

I'm not about to regale you with tales of how I trekked through the jungles of Northern Thailand to spend time with hill tribes sampling their local brews. This is a drink that's readily available from every 7-Eleven and Family Mart in the country, but which I haven't seen elsewhere. Even in Japan, though I think it might actually be Japanese. (There's a slightly inferior home-grown Thai version made by Ichitan, which is the Pepsi to Oishi's Coke).

I've always enjoyed a bit of barley in a drink, as my grandparents regularly stocked wholesome British barley water adorned with nostalgic paintings of cricket on the heath. But this one combines the refreshing tang of green tea with a very nice after-taste accompanying every gulp. I get through at least 1.5 litres per day in Thailand - at least it keeps me away from gassy Coke, even if it's still largely composed of liver-destroying acids. I'm not kidding myself.

Almond milk (Singapore)

Another mass-produced drink with a remarkable after-taste, though not too mass-produced as after chancing across this brilliant drink one time in Family Mart and being blown away, I wasn't able to find it again until my recent return. I think there are a couple of brands around, and I also became mildly addicted to a hot version that required queueing at a local Chinese restaurant for 10 minutes, which is worth it.

The almond after-taste left my mouth feeling like I'd just chomped on a great cake. I've noticed that most of these involve mixing food in with the drink.

Yam milkshake (Malaysia)

I've talked about this one before, that's how impressive it was. Mostly for confounding my expectations and proving me dead wrong, as I used to laugh at the concept of a milkshake made from yam when I saw it advertised at a Malaysian restaurant in Edinburgh. That's partly the fault of Beavis & Butthead comics making yams inexplicably funny in my childhood. After this experience, I sought out other tuber-based drinks and was disappointed.

White Russian (probably not Russia)

Notable for being the first alcoholic drink I really enjoyed, as in actually enjoyed rather than tolerated for the sake of getting stupid, this was introduced to me by a housemate in a Vodka Revolution bar during one of the first weeks of University (which explains what I was doing in a Vodka Revolution bar) as being 'like an alcoholic milkshake,' which immediately appealed to me. I blame this and the similarly mind-blowing vodka jelly made by someone else in my building for the borderline alcoholism of the next three years.

Pisang Ambon (Netherlands apparently, with Indonesian influence)

Image: Justdrink

The most stunning alcoholic drink I tasted during my Edinburgh years, a friend introduced me to this bizarre liqueur which struck me with the after-taste of Hob Nobs or possibly digestive biscuit, though Wikipedia's trying to convince me it was banana. Sod off Wikipedia, I know what I tasted.

I was so impressed by it, I visited the obscure alcohol shop my friend recommended and bought a bottle for about £18 in time for the Beltane festival, where it was the only thing I had to drink and taught me why liqueurs are generally served in small glasses. It's possible to have too much of a good thing.

Kopi luwak (Indonesia)

This one's the only example here of me visiting a country and trying the home brew. There aren't too many of those, because it's not the 1940s any more and we have imports now. Most 'local' coffees I've tried have tasted more or less the same, including this one made from a single, ludicrously expensive bean that's already been passed through the digestive system of a palm civet and cleaned up by a farmer who must love his job.

A single cup didn't set me back much, but you can import a bag of pre-digested beans if you like to be showy or your palate is simply so refined that coffee beans that haven't already been shat out by a furry animal just don't do it for you any more.

Vending machine coffee (Japan)

Image: designboom

There's nothing really unusual or different about these brands of coffee themselves (as far as I know there are no animals involved), it's just the method of distribution that impressed me. Chancing across a vending machine stocked with piping hot metal cans of coffee on a cold spring day in Tokyo, I knew I was going to enjoy this country. When I later found a vending machine restaurant, I knew it was love.

Bubble tea (Taiwan)

Image: Examiner

I don't like the bubbles, but the tea's kind of nice. Same goes for those green aloe vera drinks in Korea with all the bits - nice drink, but you can keep the bits. I like my drinks to have the confusing after-taste of a snack, I don't want them to actually be edible.

Ginger tea (Macau)

This is probably the most normal thing on here and might be widely available in every cafe in the UK, but I wouldn't know as I didn't spend so much time in cafes back then, not needing to leech Wi-Fi quite so often. I only really remember seeing it on menus in more Chinesey countries like Macau and Malaysia, which tended to be more Chinese than China based on my limited experience of that country.

This scrumptious, spicy tea (with foody after-taste again) was my preferred poison when hanging out in Macau for a couple of weeks and visiting the cafe around the corner to escape my horrible hotel where the walls didn't even reach all the way to the ceiling. One pot of roughly six cups was good for about an hour of Wi-Fi use, according to my self-imposed rules that I haven't shared with the world but expect it to understand regardless.

Kickapoo Joy Juice (disappointingly American but mostly Malaysian)

Image: Snappetite

Admittedly, this one's only memorable for its ultra-childish name. I can't even remember the taste, it was some kind of disappointing sub-lemonade. I've only seen it in Malaysia, but it gets around a bit.

The more you learn about it, the less funny it is, so I wouldn't recommend it - just spot it in a fridge when travelling around South East Asia some day and let out a childish giggle.

Drinks to avoid: Bird's Nest White Fungus (Vietnam)

I thought this was some brand of tasty Vietnamese iced coffee. It wasn't coffee. It was bird's nest and white fungus. Dee-lish.

1 comment:

  1. Oishi is indeed a Thai company founded by a Thai in Thailand which produces Japanese food and beverages in Thailand for Thais.
    Though In japan, I noticed, barley flavored green tea is not exactly rare either.
    Just an additional useless piece of information, Oishi means "yummy/delicious" in Japanese (and this is also written on the bottle in hiragana).