What's the most outrageous beverage you've tried? Last week, I got back from Hong Kong, a paradise for the adventurous eater. I nibbled on braised chicken toes. I sampled deer tendons. I snacked on tomato-flavored candy. I ate dishes spotted with Szechuan chiles and peppercorns so spicy that the restaurant provided a box of tissues on the table to wipe the sweat from your brow.
And yet, far and away the most unappealing, bizarre, and downright disgusting thing I sampled in Asia was not a weird meat dish or some scary foreign delicacy. It was a simple drink—the seemingly innocuous-sounding salty lemon soda.
When I ordered the drink at a Vietnamese noodle shop in Kowloon, I expected a slightly salty but still sweet beverage, not unlike a Gatorade or the salty caramel milkshake I've grown to love at Midtown favorite, Schnipper's Quality Kitchen. What arrived was a tall icy glass of seltzer with a preserved salted lemon in the bottom and a spoon used to mash it up. Cool, crisp, and clear, it looked like the refreshing Asian cousin of the mojito.
Which is what made the first sip all the more horrifying. Salty lemon soda tastes like a glass of ocean water on the rocks or carbonated citrus sweat. The saline taste is overwhelming. Each sip, naturally, makes you even thirstier. You try to take another sip, hoping it will get better. It doesn't. You search for an ice cube that may have remained untainted by the salt. You can't find one. And the waitress stands a few feet away from the table and laughs at the gweilo—or "ghost man," a common Cantonese slang term for white foreigners—who has been so easily defeated by a simple bubbly drink. I'm sure people love the stuff, but it left me with a sour (and salty) taste in my mouth.
I know I'm a wuss. In the grand scheme of bizarre beverages, salty lemon soda is nothing. In Kenya and Tanzania, members of the Maasai tribe often mix cow blood with their milk. In Latin America, a maize-based beer known as chicha is made by chewing up and spitting out purple corn kernels, before allowing the saliva mixture to sit and ferment. Perhaps most horrifying of all is Korean and Chinese baby mice wine. Let that sink in for a minute. Baby mice are drowned in rice wine before they even open their eyes and guzzled for their supposed health benefits. (If you're not squeamish, type "baby mice wine" into your Google Image search. If you're a lover of small animals, refrain.)
Can you top that? While traveling, have you ever tried a gross, weird, or otherwise interesting drink you can't find back home?
On a related note, check out the world's weirdest restaurants!