Monday, May 31, 2010

The Soda Sampler

There was one other adventure in Las Vegas I forgot to mention. Toward the south end of The Strip there’s a Coca-Cola store. As you can guess, you can buy all kinds of Coca-Cola merchandise and even have your picture taken with the Coca-Cola polar bear. (No personal cameras, please.) So late one night as we were walking back from dinner we dropped in.

The star attraction was the soda fountain on the second floor, where you could order a “Taste of the World” platter featuring 4 ounces each of sixteen different sodas on trays stacked one on top of each other. At a cheap $7.00, it was like the carbonated version of a Las Vegas buffet. It would be wrong to walk by that. (I was hoping we would get bread cubes and a spit cup to cleanse our palates between samples, but apparently bread and spit are not Coca-Cola products.)

So here’s a list of what we tasted and what I thought, in no particular order:

Inka Kola (Peru)

I’ve actually had Inka Kola before. It’s a very sweet, syrupy, bright yellow-green drink, and tastes as if someone had taken the undiluted extract of lemon-lime Gatorade and added some fizz. I actually like Gatorade, so I’m okay with the drink. I’m also intrigued with the historical aspects of its use by the ancient Inca culture. Bottles have been found in the ruins of Macchu Piccu. Archaeological studies continue. I understand the Inka Kola plant is being considered for designation as a United Nations World Heritage site.

I learned about Inka Kola on a hiking trip to South America in 1987. Even though I had read the warnings about eating food from street vendors, I was wise enough to not listen. So one night in Cuzco I bought some kind of meat-filled pastry and a bottle of Inka Cola from a very sincere-looking pushcart gourmet. The next day I was confined to my hotel room with a severe gastrointestinal illness and wound up spending quite a bit of time watching the Peruvian National Volleyball Team on television. (I also found out that Peru is pronounced Pey-ROO and not PA-roo as we gringos tend to do.) See the experiences I would have missed if I had followed sound travel advice?

That was also the trip where I learned to chew coca leaves, but that’s another tale. And I think the statute of limitations for the coca leaf tea I managed to sneak back through customs has expired. The tea itself is long gone, so don’t send the Department of Agriculture Beagle Brigade to the house. Thank you.

Sunfill Mint (India)

This drink had a very nice light green color that suggests the freshness of early spring, when there is just a touch of white still on the ground to lighten the air. It tastes like Scope mouthwash. This is probably not a bad thing if you eat a lot of Indian food, and I say this as someone who loves Indian food and who could happily eat it exclusively if confined to a single cuisine for the rest of my life. (I would undoubtedly feel some pangs for real Kansas City barbeque. But there’s got to be some way to turn a tandoori oven into a smoking pit). But I am also aware that after I eat Indian food, everyone knows it no matter how vigorously I brush my teeth. So I figure a good slug of soda with antibacterial qualities along with carbonation to dissolve any dental buildup can’t hurt. (That is what carbonation does…clean the teeth, like Dow Scrubbing Bubbles, right?)

Nestea Peach (France)

Nestea Peach didn’t look like tea and didn’t look like peach. It was clear in tone, tasting like tepid seltzer water with a twist of cardboard. Not awful, but very bland. It’s probably made that way so it doesn’t spoil the palate for real French dishes such as sautéed organ in sauce. I’m not making the organ thing up. When I was flying out of Paris on my first and only trip to the French capital, I stopped at an airport restaurant and ordered what I thought was a beef stew. I got what I asked for…just not the part of beef I anticipated. I think the taste buds…not mine, but those on the slice of tongue…is what gave it away. Judging by the size, cows must taste a lot.

Stoney Ginger Beer ( Africa)

I actually like ginger beer, and buy an Aussie version of it for myself at World Market. It’s not real beer, of course, but it tastes like spicy beer with the addition of ginger. Ginger is good for nausea, and I suspect that if we started to put ginger in our beers rather than slices of lime, we’d be a lot less prone to barf after drinking. I would like a government grant to explore this idea.

Smart Watermelon (China)

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say that watermelon is my favorite fresh fruit of all time, followed closely by a perfectly ripe and juicy Jaffa orange. I’ll eat or drink just about anything with watermelon in it, like Midori liquor, or I’ll pair watermelon with just about any other foodstuff on the globe. (I’m probably the only guy in the history of the buffet at Paris Las Vegas who loaded up his plate with frutta della mare, macaroni and cheese, and watermelon.) So I loved this stuff. And to find that watermelon in also one of the more intellectual fruits? A bonus, to be sure. I feel bad for folks who have to drink Moronic Mango or Stupid Kumquat.

Kinley Lemon (England)

A clear soda that tasted like Spite with a bite. Not bad, but probably better as a mixer than a stand-alone. I think you could combine this with an English liquor called Pimm’s to make a drink called a Shandy, which is especially tasty when punting on the River Cam. (Just in case you were wondering where such a drink might be especially tasty. This blog strives to be a public service.)

Lift Apple ( Mexico)

It was a nice light apple soda. Pretty tasty. The Bride has some kind of allergy to processed apple products that makes her break into hives. So I can’t drink this and kiss her. (Well, I might as an experiment, but I think that would be a bad relationship moment. I’m good enough at creating those without carbonated help.)

Fanta Kolita (Costa Rica)

For years I’ve had a crush on Sophia Fanta, the grape member of the Fantanas. While she is lovely, to be certain, I’m sure that part of the appeal is that I just like the word “Fantana.” I also like the name of the group “Bananarama.” If they formed a septet they could be Fantanabananamrama.

How would you play The Name Game with Fanta?

Fanta fanta bo-anta
Banana-fana fo-anta

It’s even better with Bananarama.

Bananarama Bananarama bo-ananarama
Banana-fana fo-ananarama
Fee-fi-mo mananarama

The Wikipedia article on “The Name Game” indicates that if you use names such as Alice, Chuck, or Art, the result will contain “profanity or crude language.” Which it does. But it’s funny. Funny funny bo-unny. Banana-fana fo-unny. Fee-fi-mo-munny. Funny!

Bibo Kiwi Mango (South Africa)

I don’t recall exactly what it tasted like. I do know it tasted the same in English, Afrikaans, and Zulu. The Xhosa version had a little click to it.

Simba Guarana ( Paraguay)

This tasted like a heavier version of sarsaparilla. Sarsaparilla happens to be the best soda of all time. Afternoon Delight is the greatest composition in human history. If you do not agree with me, I will fight you. (Apologies to Ron Burgundy.)

Vegitabeta ( Japan)

I have no idea what this tastes like. By the time we got to this stuff, I was on my eleventh sample of sixteen, and was on some kind of sugar high. So all I could think of was Lucy doing the Vitaminavegamin commercial, and laughed so hard I almost spit the soda out my nose.

Sunfill Blackcurrant (Mauritius)

This is black cherry cola. It’s quite tasty. I wasn’t sure where Mauritius is, so I looked it up. Turns out it’s an island republic located east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The Prime Minister is Dr. Navinchandra Ramgoolam GCKS FRCP MP. It was the only known habit of the dodo bird, extinct since 1681. They drive on the left. Ninety percent of the arable land is grown in sugar cane. Blackcurrant is not listed as one if it’s agricultural products. Part of me wants to say that its’ not right to have a drink you can’t raise in your own country. On the other hand, we don’t grow kola nuts in America.

It is also useful to note that I am convinced that a 4 ounce serving of soda named after a fruit is equivalent to a full serving within the fruit and vegetable food group. I also believe this to be true of Starbursts, Skittles, Gummy Bears, and Jolly Ranchers.

Bibo Pine Nut (South Africa)

If we’re supposed to eat pine nuts, why have I never gotten a can of Planter’s Mixed Nuts and found a pine nut in them?

Smart Apple (China)

Compare and contrast the Chinese concept of cognitive fruit with the Mexican idea of apples as a form of manual labor. You have fifteen minutes. Begin.

Beverly (Italy)

I’m not making this name up. It is a real soda, and a horrible one at that. It tastes like someone mixed tonic water with quinine and dropped in some mustard for good measure. I wonder if it’s used less for refreshment and more as a test of manhood, kind of like shots of cheap tequila. You think you’re a man? Drink a glass of Beverly and don’t flinch.

All I can think of is that someone must have really been dumped, and dumped hard, by someone named Beverly. It has the taste of a failed relationship, one so bad that not only did she take your money and break your heart, but probably even won over the love of the dog you’ve had for seventeen years. One also wonders if there is a whole Mediterranean cottage industry in bad sodas named after ex-girlfriends.

Mezzo Mix ( Germany)

Dull, tasteless. Kind of like German comedy. Name the last good German comedian. Can’t do it? Exactly.

(I’ve heard it said that Germans might laugh if it weren’t against the rules. But I doubt it.)

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