Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Weird Drinks Party Part 1

The Soviet Chemistry Lab

Buratino, Baikal, and Tarkhun are brands of sugary carbonated soft drinks usually consumed at kids' birthday parties but I'm only now discovering their dark secrets!

Buratino (6/10)

Named after the Russian version of "Pinocchio", this drink has no equivalent that I've ever tasted in any other culture. It's somewhere between faint apple and orange soda, but neither one of the two in particular. This drink is the least sugary of the 3 Russian sodas, and scores points for stirring up nostalgic memories of my last birthday in Russia.

Baikal (4/10)

The Soviet answer to Coca-Cola, this drink is sweeter than Coke, but it doesn't have that umph! of the secret ingredient in Coke.

It is named after the Olympic star of all world lakes: Baikal Lake is at once the most voluminous, the deepest, and the clearest of all freshwater lakes in the world, and is located in Siberia. I love the label on this drink showing a muddy-brown tidal wave of Coke imitation soda threateningly hovering over the pristine waters of Baikal.

Tarkhun (4/10)

It looks like it came from the Chernobyl nuclear plant and tastes equally radioactive. Its 26g of sugar per 250 ml serving do not really mask the chemical flavor of the drink. The scary part is that the contents do not list any food coloring so the radioactive green color must be the effect of mixing all other ingredients (or maybe they just forgot to list it).

I've always thought that the word "Tarkhun" had no meaning, but the English translation "Tarragon" on the label led me to discover that the primary flavor in this drink is tarragon, an herb related to wormwood, which is used to make the most famous green drink of all - absinthe. So Tarkhun must be the kids' version of absinthe.

Like absinthe, Tarkhun needs to be properly mixed with a complementary mildly-flavored liquid in order to be enjoyed. Independent of all my absinthe-related realizations, we fortuitously discovered that Tarkhun and Birch Tree Juice complemented each other very well and made an actually tolerable, even enjoyable cocktail (5/10).


Birch Tree Juice (4/10)

Birch sap, much like maple sap (used to make maple syrup) is collected by drilling small holes in young birch trees and by letting the sap drip out into a bottle. It contains water, enzymes, proteins, amino acids and sugars and is considered a healthy tonic. On its own it tastes like sugar water.

Kvas (8/10)

This is a fermented drink derived from rye or rye bread. It is very dark brown in color and tastes a bit like carbonated yeast. "Kvas" is derived from the word "acid" in Polish and the origin of the drink dates to 5000 years, around the same time humans discovered beer.

Although it contains up to 1.4% alcohol, Kvas is considered suitable for children. It is popular in all post-soviet republics and is ubiquitous in Eastern European groceries and restaurants. Kvas is similar to non-alcoholic beer.

In the spirit of Russian feasts, we "chased" our fabulous drinks with sumptuous red caviar sandwiches.

All of the above can be procured at most Russian/Ukranian/Eastern Bloc food stores, such as:
B & B International Food @ 12-17 River Rd Fair Lawn, NJ or
Net Cost Market @ 608 Sheepshead Bay Rd, Brooklyn, NY 11224

1 comment:

  1. The original (Soviet Era) drink "Baikal" has NOTHING common with drink "Baikal" in USA, may be just the same name.