Our love for Pasta took us to Italy and passion of Vodka took us to Russia. When your travel is dictated by the food and drink choices, you sometimes sit down in the balcony, overlooking the rainy city and reminisce the times when you had the best drinks in every country you have visited. All this while, wrapping your hands around the coffee mug. . .
For us, a lot of bonding takes place over drinks and a lot of memories revolve around the taste and aromas of various beverages. The drink log I present here narrates my associations and interpretations with numerous such drinks from our travels which continue to evoke (mostly) fond memories.
A very genial gentleman in the very first restaurant we stepped into; in Istanbul; introduced us to the Turkish tea. Tea is an important part of Turkish culture, and offering tea to guests is part of Turkish hospitality. So we were pleasantly surprised when a commercial establishment made us feel like part of their culture. I am not a tea person and definitely hate the aroma of black tea but the enthusiasm of the restaurant owner was too difficult to counter and the cups in which the tea was served were exquisite! So I drank that concoction just to respect his sentiments. I won’t lie, it wasn’t smashing.. but it definitely warmed my heart to see the twinkle in that restaurant owner’s eyes 🙂
That’s how I look at travel. It’s not always to your liking but you play along and are richer by the experience.
We bonded with the owner over a cup of Turkish tea and he made sure we got best of Turkish food. He even guided us to the Grand bazaar in his broken English. He may be doing this to multiple tourists; but his charm does make him a great ambassador for his country’s tourism. We don’t generally collect souvenirs and definitely not the fragile ones. But the only regret I have is that I did not buy the Turkish tea cups. 😦
Turkish tea. Image Source: Internet
We were in the hyped up city of Prague in summer but the weather was chilly and breezy. The Czechs has decided it was summer and they had taken out their local brews of supremely fine beers! We consumed as many local beers as possible and beer was genuinely cheaper than water 🙂
While on the river cruise of Vltava, we were offered complimentary beer and it was amazing ! Dark brown – almost black and insanely refreshing! We relished it even in those cold currents. The beer was dark but not overly bitter and left great aftertaste. All the brews we had on the go were non-branded but flavorsome. Wonder why we only know Budweiser and Pilsner from the Czech Republic!
L: Local brew, R: Budweiser (Source: Internet)
Italian café and lemoncello
When in Rome, do as the Romans do!Well, you need to do a lot of sightseeing and eat awesome pizzas; but also don’t miss on the small cafes serving refreshing coffee. The Italians fiercely love their coffee and understandably so! Just make sure you order one at the counter and not on the table to avoid being levied the “cover charge”. Drinking coffee is a quick affair in Italy unlike France where you relish it for a good amount of time. So, no need to pay cover charge just to sit for 10 odd minutes.
Apart from coffee, we loved the Limoncello – the liqueur produced in southern Italy. We first tasted it in Pompeii and were bowled over by its ferocious taste! Just a shot of it and entire digestive tract was on fire 🙂 Lemoncello comes in various flavours and crema di limoncello which is with milk is a milder version of this drink. But we loved the lemon flavoured one which is zesty 🙂 we even got one bottle home and then again bought another one at a Duty Free shop during another journey. We are lifelong fans of this post-dinner digestive shots and highly recommend it to those with strong guts 🙂
French wine and coffee
I have a natural bias towards all things French since the day I started learning French way back in 2003. So, when we headed to France in 2017 (my 2nd trip) I was eager to drown my soul in the famous French wines. As is globally known, the French make their wines with utmost passion and take wine-making, drinking, appreciating very seriously. We loved almost all the wines barring a few and I am inclined towards the white ones which are stronger on palate. Drinking wine in France remains the highlight of our trip just because the French revere their wines so intensely 🙂
The coffee in France is best had at the roadside café, where all the chairs are facing towards the road. TH found it extremely amusing to sit together but not look at each other! I found it uniquely romantic that you are sitting with someone but checking out others! 🙂 Drinking coffee in France is again an experience to be cherished. If you ever go there, set aside an afternoon to enjoy such moments.
Belgian hot chocolate, Chimay and Leffe
One sip of this insanely delicious, thick hot chocolate will teleport you to heaven. Trust me! My first brush with true blue, Belgian hot chocolate was during the breakfast at Ibis. And even in a budget hotel, they served the best hot chocolate! I drank gallons of hot chocolate at every opportunity I got. I tasted it from the machine, made it myself from the chocolate chips, got it made by the professionals and almost attained nirvana sipping that 🙂
Another regret – not bringing back the Belgian chocolate chips but then good we didn’t get it else I would have doubled in size in no time!
TH found his true love in Leffe and Chimay, the Trappist beers in Belgium. These are exceptional and refreshing on palate. The beers are locally served in customized glasses just to add a little sparkle to your overall beer drinking experience. We made sure we had them in breakfast when we were transiting through Brussels for another trip 🙂 It’s a shame they aren’t commonly available in India yet.
The fiery feisty shot of Russian vodka is sure to burn your internal organs!! Before visiting Russia, we always drank vodka mixed with sprite or something else. Once in Russia, our friend took us to a local pub and ordered vodka for us and asked what will we have with that? We ordered our regular mixer and waited for our drink. When the vodka was served, it was in a shot glass and the mixer was in a bottle so we were perplexed how to mix it. Our friend (originally Indian, now Russian) laughed at our idiotic faces and said shoot that damn vodka down your throat and then keep sipping the cold-drink!! We were gullible enough to believe him and did as told only to burn and recreate our organs. It was a moment that shattered our belief that vodka is a gentle drink.
There are many tales associated with how much Russians love Vodka and how to drink it. Making a toast for every round is mandatory 🙂
This one has become a serious addiction! Before Vietnamese, we had tried and loved the Malaysian roast coffee (white coffee). As a prep for our Vietnam trip, we had read about Vietnamese coffee so it was on our “must-try” list. For those of you who love coffee, we highly recommend this brew as it is strong and heady combination of roasted coffee, sugar and milk/condensed milk. But it wasn’t love at first sight. We drank this coffee in Vietnam and liked it. Then we bought one small box of sachets to try it in the hotel and did not like it! So we got the box to India and then just so we could finish it, we prepared Vietnamese coffee at home and BANG!!! We loved it only to realize that we had been utterly foolish to carry only 8 sachets of coffee back home.
We sulked and went around being heart-broken. Then one day, a friend reached out to seek advice on their Vietnam trip 🙂 we obviously helped and requested them to get us some Vietnamese coffee and they were sweet enough to get some for us! We have been sourcing Vietnamese coffee from varied places and people since then and continue to enjoy it beyond measure 🙂
Malaysian Milo and White Coffee
One drink that all the KL-ites keep harping about is Milo! It’s had in cold and hot variant and huge boxes/refills are stacked in the grocery stores. While TH was in KL for a short stint, I visited KL and found Milo being advertised everywhere! So curious to know what’s the whole craze about, I bought Milo against TH’s warning. He knew I would be disappointed and he was right. Milo is nothing but a glorified version of Bournvita or Complan and you can easily give it a miss.
We still haven’t figured out why the Malaysians love their Milo so much when they have White coffee!
I was introduced to this one on one of my few trips to KL when TH was based there. First brand I drank was “Ipoh white coffee” and it was an instant love affair. I couldn’t live without it! Then I drank “Old Town White Coffee” and I broke up with Ipoh. I continue to be in love with Old Town white coffee. We got a big bag full of Old Town sachets when we bid adieu to KL. We have ordered that coffee online, have pestered relatives who go to South East Asia to get some for us and continue to make plans to go to KL with big empty bags so that we can get colossal quantity of this coffee. We have even explored if we could get a Franchisee in India as I strongly believe that this coffee is perfect for the Indian palate.
The coffee is strong, sweet and with milk! the magic is in its roasting practice. It’s made from the coffee beans roasted in margarine, ground, brewed and served with sweetened condensed milk. Since it’s margarine, I am sure it’s unhealthy and no wonder I love it so much!
Polish Fruit Compote and Grzaniec (Hot beer)
We all were frozen to our core when we were roaming in Warsaw’s Old Town neighbourhood. It was barely few minutes past sunset and weather was turning frigid. It was our first evening in town and we were yet to figure out our supper place. After fighting with the cold, we just entered into the first warm tavern that we could find. The setting was apt to drink hot soup but the menu card and broken English of the server informed us that they have hot alcoholic drinks 🙂 so we ordered Polish Fruit compote and hot beers. The fruit compote was fruity (obviously!) and comforting. It’s something that I can grow old with. The hot beer was mildly spiced and tasted divine!
Kudos to the Poles who have cleverly figured out to drink beer even in harsh winters
L: Fruit Compote, R: Grzaniec (Hot beer)
Estonian shots/Vana Tallinn
When it’s -100 C outside, you crave for warmth in any form! We went to the barman asking for Minttu shot – the barman threw us a dirty stare and declared that’s Finnish and not Estonian. We stared back blankly thinking “how does it matter?!” and then asked him if he has anything strong which is Estonian! and then he conjured up the Vana Tallinn. It is a dark brown and robust rum-based liqueur and you get it in multiple flavours. We had the chocolate cream flavor and it was a little sweet but very delicious.
We savored the shot slowly (unlike Russian Vodka) and soon the world was a warm and fuzzy place 🙂 the barman was beaming with joy when we told him that we loved the national pride!
L: Minttu shots, R: Vana Tallinn
Indonesian coconut water and Tehbotol (Indonesian Jasmine tea)
We were in Jakarta on a flying visit and wanted to do a whirlwind city tour. It was hot and muggy and we were on road for the entire afternoon. The benefit of being in South East Asia is abundance of coconut water available at pocket friendly price. The Indonesian coconuts are giant and the water is like nectar! First sip elicits an instinctive “AAAH”. And there is so much water in one coconut that we were full in one coconut! just a side-note: Drinking coconut water on the road when you aren’t sure of your next toilet stop is a bad idea (just like beer).
TehBotol is a popular iconic Indonesian drink and you may please miss it. It is Jasmine flavoured sweet water. TH drank it in Jakarta as he drinks any flavoured water. I merely sipped it and dismissed it as rubbish. But those of you who drink Green Tea and Iced Tea (equally rubbish), this may be meant for you ! 🙂
We were more keen to try this one just because its name made us giggle like idiotic school kids :p.[For non-Hindi speaking folks – beer lao in Hindi translates into “get the beer”]
Not very funny if deconstructed but every time we ordered “1 beer lao” we suppressed a giggle. The beer is a product of a zen nation – Laos and the taste is mild and gentle too. It’s a beer to be enjoyed on a hot summer afternoon sitting by Mekong and ponder about everything under the sun. You can never have too many of this lot. Its smooth and gentle in its own way just like the whole vibe of Laos.
This can be termed as a big brother of its Laotian counterpart. This beer is fine but a little dull if you are a hardcore Dark Beer lover. Chilled Angkor beer perfectly complemented our sojourn in terribly hot conditions of Siem Reap. We practically survived the scorching sun by drinking this beer (and then I got dehydration on my last leg of Angkor circuit 🙂 Would recommend that you go easy even though you like this mild brew.
While in Baltics, we ate at a popular food chain Lido and one of the best drinks available there was kefir. It is fermented milk drink and is a sublime version of buttermilk. I am a die-hard buttermilk lover and the thicker the buttermilk, happier I get J Kefir was just that and more. The moment I took my sip of kefir, I couldn’t stop! Before I knew it, I had gulped down the entire glass and was ready for the next round. It’s smooth and creamy and adequately sour. I still get craving for the same. Bless the soul who created this soulful drink 🙂
We continue to visit many places and drink-in the good, the bad and the ugly.TH has had the famous Civet Coffee/Luwak coffee (yakkk…). We are yet to venture into snake wines and the likes; may our palate and gut support such adventures!