Although Chinese exports are ubiquitous and a part of our everyday lives — and the Little Shop of Horrors was exclusively an American phenomenon — there are some products that might be better received if left there.
The following roster of drinks and their acceptance may well be a matter of acculturation, but it is likely that their description alone will elicit from the majority who read about them a significant “Ugh!”
Bird’s Nest Drink
Bird’s Nest Soup is an age-old Chinese delicacy made from the nests of cave-dwelling swiftlet birds, or more specifically, from their saliva. A prized culinary ingredient throughout much of Asia, it is thought to promote healthy skin, strengthen the liver and boost the immune system.
It is now a drink, which may well not induce the “pause that refreshes.” Its texture is glutinous, reminiscent of that blob that took over an American city about six decades ago. Some have called the taste “succulent” — or at least, that’s what it says on the can. The gag-inducing mixture is made from sugar, bird’s nest, and water. The taste is slightly “minerally,” with the consistency of simple syrup. The texture is very odd, as it is composed of the bits of rock candy and nest “material” floating about.
Crunchy Water Chestnut Drink
For fans of crunchy, watery and the rather bland, there is the canned Crunchy Water Chestnut Drink. Comprised of sugar, water and water chestnuts (surprise) chopped up and floating around in the drink, the drink resembles pale urine. Although a classic ingredient in Chinese foods such as Canton-style chow mein, the power of water chestnuts as a drink is something else entirely. Drink at the risk of falling asleep while slurping.
Dry Bubble Ice Tea
Did you ever think your soft drink would contain bubbles as cold as the coldest temperature ever measured on earth (109.3 °F or -78.5 °C to be exact)? Well, consider it now, for Beijing outdoor cafes are offering drink-at-your-own-risk dry ice bubble tea. The frozen nodules of carbon dioxide bubble merrily before your eyes, but to swallow one inadvertently is not such a merry experience.
While martinis should be stirred — not shaken (or something like that) — these drinks must be sipped, and never slurped. They are served with an extra wide straw for that purpose. It’s hard to say whether those who try it are ignorant or brave or maybe a bit of both.
Dry ice is frozen CO2 and looks just like ice. It is dry to the touch because its elements compound from a solid directly to a gas. To touch the dry ice can result in frozen flesh and painful burns.
Baby Mice Wine
Sold in China and Korea where it is touted as a miraculous cure-all for all sorts of ailments, ranging from asthma to liver disease, Baby Mice Wine consists of new-born mice, their eyes still closed, that are plucked from their mothers and stuffed (while still alive) into bottles of rice wine. The dead baby mice ferment for a year in the rice wine (good things come to those who wait). The result is a micey-ricey concoction, the taste of which has been likened to raw gasoline.
Here’s to your health!
Speaking of the taste of petrol, some people in China have been known to drink gasoline to get their own motors running. One such man, Dejun Chen, 72, claims he has been drinking from 3 to 3.5 kg (more than 6 pounds) of gasoline every month for the last 40 years. Chen claims the gasoline cured his chest pains, while his prescribed medication did not.
Jew’s Ear Juice
The consulate general of Israel in Shanghai, Jackie Eldan, was recently surprised to discover on the shelves of a local supermarket chain a canned beverage called “Jew’s Ear Juice.” She stressed that this was not a case of anti-Semitism, as “Jewish” is considered a synonym of “success” in China. According to Eldan, the juice’s manufacturer must have thought that linking it to the Jewish ear would be profitable.
But let’s get down to ears and juice. The inscription on the can reads Quality Jew’s ear selected from Changbai Mountain. The ear in question is actually a mushroom known as Black Wood Ear, which does resemble a wrinkled human ear. The can claims it contains pure water, black wood ear, haw (Chinese hawthorn), Chinese dates, sugar, honey, sodium of citric acid [sic] and stabilizer.
In addition to ears and juice, all buyers receive a Jew’s Ear bottle opener with every can.
To each his own, my friends, but if you don’t mind, don’t ever bring any of these drinks to my house!