This is a truly epic Weird Stuff post, clocking in at 7 Weird Beverages. Despite our travels through Malaysia, Korea (McCol, Aloe Juice, Nostalgia Drink, and Pine Bud Drink), Japan, Malta, Scotland, and Singapore, no other country has provided us with such a diversity of Weird Stuff in so short a time. Congratulations, Taiwan! You are first among truly august company!
1) Mystery fruit juice.
We bought fruit juice from this vendor in a Taipei shopping street. What kind? I have no idea. My Chinese is nowhere near good enough for me to know the characters for things like "starfruit" and "papaya," so I just asked him to make us whatever he liked the best.
Verdict: Delicious! The weirdest part was how you actually tasted the different fruits at different points of time. I don't remember all of them or their order, but I do remember tasting papaya midway through and finishing with a blast of grape. It was like those Willy Wonka candies that change candy as you eat them, except healthy.
2. Taiwan Beer
Not really weird, per se, but great because of the name. It really is just "Taiwan Beer." The beer version of Canada Dry, I guess? A perfectly acceptable lager that went well with Chinese and spicy foods on a hot day.
3. Watermelon Juice
This one's so easy you could make it yourself: take watermelon, throw it in the blender, and you're done. I liked the early sips (although they could have used more sugar) but the stuff at the bottom was too grainy for me. Also, they didn't remove the seeds, which was kind of awkward partway through a sip. Personally, I have a preference for drinks which don't require me to spit stuff on the street in foreign countries. Justin is less picky than I am, so I foisted this off on him.
4. Gelatinous lime juice
I looooove lime juice. When we lived in Alexandria, Virginia, there was this Mexican restaurant on King's Street with thoroughly mediocre and overpriced food, and I'd go there anyway just to pound the giant glasses of limeade. A brilliantly delicious beverage which needs to get more popular so I can buy it more places.
This was not lime juice. Can you make out the texture here?
It's a weird semi-gelatinized half-beverage hybrid, the offspring of lime-flavored corn syrup and Jell-O. It was not quite as firm as Jell-O, but not liquid, either. Honestly, it wasn't bad, but when it's hot and sunny and you've set your heart and tastebuds on a thirst-quenching bottle of tart limeade, lukewarm sugar blobs ain't going to cut it. Another one to foist off on Justin.
4. Sugar cane juice
We thought it was bamboo juice when we bought it. The guy had a cool press going at the front of the stall - you could watch him feed a long stalk of sugar cane into the squeezer to have the juice crushed out of it. Hence our misunderstanding of the type of juice: as mentioned, my Chinese characters are weak, and to a couple of Midwesterners, bamboo looks an awful lot like sugar cane:
Anyway, the verdict? Well, it tastes like sugar cane, which is to say, really sweet. In my opinion, it shouldn't be the dominant flavor, but it would make a nice sweetener to something else. We had Sugarcane/Lime Juice in Singapore, but the balance was too much to the sugar cane side. \
Anyway, I didn't like it. Can you guess what I did with it?
How did this picture get in here? Moving right along.
5. Starbucks Oolong Tea
The Taiwanese take their tea WAY too seriously to put up with bagged nonsense in Starbucks, hence the little loose-leaf caddy hooked onto Justin's cup. Tea cultivation in Taiwan dates to the 19th century, at which point it was still called Formosa. If you see something advertised as "Formosan oolong," it means it was grown in Taiwan - due to the strength of the brand image, they've kept the old name. (They did the same in Sri Lanka, where despite erasing all other uses of the old colonial name of Ceylon, they've kept "Ceylon Tea.") Justin's verdict on the tea? Really good. I believe it was a little more expensive than the bag variety, although with exchange rates and different cities it's hard to be sure.
6. Milk Tea Bubble Tea
Milk Tea is basically the same thing as our beloved Teh Tarik: black tea with a disturbingly unhealthy proportion of condensed milk added. Seriously, if your teeth don't feel fuzzy afterward, it wasn't real milk tea.
Bubble tea has become more popular in the US - I remember it breaking through during my high school years - and basically consists of little balls of tapioca which you suck up the tea straw and chew with your drink. If you think it sounds weird now, imagine what it's like when you're not expecting it. My first encounter with bubble tea was during my sophomore year of college, when my friend Lee gave me a can he'd bought from the Asian grocery, which is to say, a can with no English on it. I thanked him and started to drink this nice tea, when suddenly, WHOA, there's a giant LUMP of CHEWY SOMETHING in my mouth. Since this predated my experience with the gelatinous lime juice by nearly ten years (side note: good GOD), I had no idea that beverages could be chewed, and could only come to the conclusion that my can of tea had gone horribly, horribly wrong. I ended up desperately horking the mystery lump into a nearby tissue and trying to rinse out my mouth in the sink of a Saybrook bathroom. Put me off bubble tea for years - actually, until this trip, when I got back on the horse.
When expected, bubble tea is delicious. The tapioca comes in two sizes, and the small one is better. It is also unfortunately high in calories, and it's definitely possible to inadvertently consume a sandwich worth over the course of an afternoon.
7. Beverage sealant
I don't remember exactly what these beverages are. I think it's a milk tea for Justin on the left, and a lemon juice for me on the right. I chose this shot because it shows a weird and fun Taiwanese beverage quirk: the melted-on lid. As a person who frequently spills things on herself, I love this. Instead of the plastic pop-on lids, which anybody with any skill at all can make pop off merely by lifting the cup, these lids are melt-sealed around the edges like a container of yogurt. You get the beverage by taking the straw, which has a pointy tip, and spearing it through the plastic. Spill-proof AND stabby? I love you, Taiwan!