Sweetcorn Soda

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Sweetcorn Soda

Category : Food

Only in Asia, where it is perfectly normal for something Westerners see just as a vegetable to turn up as dessert.

I have tried sweetcorn flavoured ice cream, toyed with sweetcorn (and red beans) sprinkled over sundaes, but absolutely could not face drinking this sweetcorn soda, which is a new taste sensation on offer in Singapore.

Sorry…but there are limits!


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Double Thai Tea

Category : Food

This ‘2 for the price of 1’ idea amused me greatly, and the slightly unusual flavours were a bonus.

The way the container is divided means you can have 2 different flavours in essentially the same space, and the lid has holes for a different straw in each half.

The cup holds a large amount of liquid, so I suppose this is a good way of sharing the cost of a cold drink with a friend. Alternatively, you could use both straws at once for an intriguing new taste sensation.

I went for honeydew melon and bandung flavour teas (this last being based on a rose flavoured syrup). They were both really sugary but still a lot of fun, and although I couldn’t finish either I was glad to have given this a try.


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Shiok Ah Ccino

August 9th is National Day in Singapore, and it’s always accompanied by massive displays of pride in the achievements of this tiny city state. And that covers not just the National Day Parade or the Singapore flag flying proudly from most residential windows, but special edition Singapore-themed items ranging from red and white T shirts to decorated cakes.

Somewhere in between comes the Shiok Ah Ccino, a remarkable, and Singapore exclusive, offering from Starbucks. Drawing on several of those local delicacies familiar in kopi tiams around the island, they have managed to create a drink that perfectly blends the Starbucks signature frappuccino with tastes that are completely Singaporean.

So the regular frappucino is blended with and the whipped cream topped by the thick sweetness of gula melaka, which is a palm sugar syrup.  The main ingredient, however, is a large scoop of coffee jelly shreds, which are an interesting take on that slightly bitter tasting local favourite which goes by the English name of ‘grass jelly’ even though it is black rather than green in colour. There’s crunchy coconut on top as the finishing touch.

Shiok, incidentally, is the local way of saying that something is really good.

It took me a couple of days to work up to tasting this one, and I did not manage to drink it all, but it was actually quite nice, despite the ‘exclusive’ price of S$7.90 for the smallest cup. Of course it helps that I really like gula melaka… What defeated me in the end was the coffee jelly, since there was so much of it that I could not get a mouthful of the drink itself without several strands sliding up the straw, and I found that horribly disconcerting.

Still, it is clearly super popular with the locals and it’s a great and rather flattering idea from Starbucks. I look forward to seeing if it reappears next year.


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Resealable Cans

Plastic water bottles have a terrible impact on the environment… we generally use them once then throw them away, meaning that quite apart from the landfill problem, around 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea every year.

Recycling is the answer, and these particular aluminium cans apparently have the best recycling rate of any drink currently available – they can be back on sale within 6 weeks. The really clever thing about these cans, however, is that they contain alpine water rather than flavoured soda, and include a special lid which can be resealed so you can finish your drink later.

This is CanOWater, available in both still and sparkling versions and using natural mineral water from the Austrian Alps.

We tried them both, and they taste just fine. The slight hiccup we experienced, however, was in actually opening the cans – embarrassingly, I had to go back to the vendor for help. Once you have prised the special sliding mechanism open, it does work pretty well, although my can did drip slightly inside my bag on the way home. For keeping the opened drink fresh in the fridge, though, it works perfectly.

At the moment, these cans seem to be available mainly in upscale grocery stores and so are unlikely to wipe out the market in plastic bottles just yet. But the idea is sound and I wish them luck with this project.


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Blue Pea Tea

You know how it is when one day you’ve never heard of a certain thing and the next it is absolutely everywhere… suddenly it seems I cannot get away from blue pea tea.

Sometimes also known as butterfly pea, the blue pea is actually a flower, which is dried to be used not just in tea but also as a natural colouring for food. It is traditionally used to colour cakes in Peranakan cuisine, where its mild flavour is virtually undetectable.

Apparently, though, the blue pea flower contains antioxidants which are really beneficial for your skin, hair, eyesight and memory, so it is suddenly becoming popular.

In the space of a week I have been able to try it as a cold brew at a local street party, with rainbow additions at the Ramadan market, and served at an elegant Thai-style afternoon tea in Bangkok.

There’s nothing special about the flavour, but the colour is spectacular, and I am told that adding a splash of lemon juice to perk it up will turn it a delightful green.

If it really is so good for you, I shall choose this again if the opportunity arises.

In the meantime, the answer to that question you are dying to ask is no, it doesn’t…


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North Korean Wine

Category : Food

Tensions are very high between North and South Korea right now, with chances of a political rapprochement appearing slim. Yet not that long ago, relations were good enough for a rail line to be built joining the 2 countries.

For almost a year, starting in December 2007, one freight train a day crossed the border, taking materials from the South to the Kaesong Industrial Region, and returning with North Korean goods. The line never carried passengers, and now looks like it never will, but the shiny, immaculate station of Dorasan still stands on the border, and some of those North Korean goods, the guides say, are still available at the souvenir stands in the waiting room.

It is tricky to get into the DMZ at this point, but a guided tour will give you half an hour or so to wander round Dorasan.  It looks just like a miniature airport building, complete with customs barriers for international arrivals and departures, and although it is standing empty everything is ready to go again at a moment’s notice. It demonstrates the apparent wish of South Korea for peace and a friendly relationship with their neighbours in the North.

And there are indeed some interesting items on sale at those souvenir stalls.

Never one to pass up a shopping opportunity and possible new taste experience, I snapped up some North Korean wine. It’s made from wild grapes, is ‘organic’ in that chemical fertilisers and pesticides are presumably hard to come by in the North, and has so many floating bits that it suggests they don’t have filters up there, either.

But never mind, this is not something you can pick up any time at the local off-licence.

When it came to sampling this, however, I was sadly disappointed. I mean, I wasn’t seriously expecting it to taste like a French wine, but I was hoping it would actually be drinkable. Unfortunately, the sealing process had failed – the screw top was not just loose but also impossible to remove without resorting to brute force and a knife.

I have no idea when this wine was bottled, but it had empathically not survived very long. The smell was atrocious, and a tiny drop convinced me that this was more like battery acid than wine and drinking it might be a really bad move. I’m afraid it went down the sink.

Still, as a curiosity, it was definitely worth a shot.


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Drip Tea

I was sceptical at first… this looks like nothing more than an attempt to hijack the ‘origami’ coffee trend for tea.

It’s the same ‘rip open at the top and pour hot water in’ bag, suspended by dinky cardboard arms over the sides of your cup. How could it possibly be any different from a tea bag?

But I was surprised and delighted. It may simply be the quality of the tea, which comes from the mountains of Imari in Kyushu, and whose leaves are apparently wrapped whilst budding for a ‘sweet undertone with a sublime taste’. It may be the quality of the filter, which is very fine mesh rather than paper.

Whatever the reason, this was the nicest green tea I can recall tasting – delicate, aromatic and fresh. The poster that caught my eye promised this would taste and smell like green tea steeped in a pot, because the way the filter opens out gives the leaves chance to unfurl and thus produce a deeper flavour than they would in a normal tea bag. It seems this was right, and I will be rushing back for more.


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Flavour Changing Ice

Here’s another wrinkle that improves the fast-moving, boundary-pushing cocktail scene in Singapore – ice cubes which change the flavour of your drink as they melt.

My ‘Frozen in Time’ cocktail came with a block of ice embedded with fruit and herbs. As it melted, a succession of different tastes made the already fruity, wine-based cocktail subtly change through a series of sweet, sour and slightly bitter variations.

My only complaint was that the ice was frozen so hard I had to struggle to keep from draining my glass before I had tasted the full range of the melt-in flavours, but I suppose this is the only way they can keep the different layers in the right place as they construct the cube.

This was just one item on an amazing menu of locally inspired cocktails from Hopscotch at the Red Dot Museum. I will absolutely be back to try more…


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Seasonal Sakura

Christmas can start as early as September in the UK, with decorations going up and seasonal specials on sale. Cadbury’s crème eggs have even been spotted in October, many months before Easter…

It’s not quite as bad in Japan, but still – despite the February snow – the spring time cherry blossom is hotly anticipated with posters, decorations and products submerging Tokyo in pink.

There are even seasonal brews from the big beer companies, with the limited edition cans adorned with shiny flowers.

Starbucks coffee shops also prove to be no exception, with these delightful if very creamy sakura flavoured specials on sale already. Daughter #1 was persuaded to sample the latte, which came with festive pink sprinkles, but not the sakura chiffon cake complete with blossom bud.

Her verdict: who can tell what cherry blossom really tastes like? The best drink by far was a regular hot chocolate topped with pink blossom shaped marshmallows.


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Lavender Tea

Would it have been unreasonable to hope this tea was actually lavender in colour?

Probably… although I was a bit disappointed to discover there was very little by way of lavender in the smell and taste, either.

The flower fields of Hokkaido in summer are as gorgeous and famous as those in Holland, with lavender in particular a major crop. Farm Tomita at Naka Furano is one of the biggest producers, and over the years have managed to turn their flowers into a range of fascinating products ranging from bath salts to candy and flavoured sodas.

It’s a while since I visited the actual farm, but they have a handy outlet at Sapporo’s New Chitose airport, where I snapped up a few new things to try. As tea goes, this is perfectly refreshing, but nothing out of the ordinary – you have to focus hard to detect a glimmer of lavender flavour. But it makes for an interesting souvenir and (especially since Hokkaido was knee deep in snow at the time) brings back happy memories of summer.


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