It is Saturday and it is time for WEIRD FORGEIGN DRINKS PARTY.
At Weird Foreign Drinks party you bring 1) A selection of the strangest foreign drinks you can find worth roughly $10 and 2) a bottle of some cheap spirit, or even better, a bottle of some weirdo liqueur or discount firewater. You arrive, you present your findings to the group, you mix them up, and you endure the results. (It was originally called Weird Asian Drinks party, because that’s where the majority of these drinks are coming from, but we changed it because a) kinda racist maybe? and b) I wanted to drink Irn Bru)
We have had (so far) two Weird Foreign Drinks Parties, spaced around three months apart, and I imagine we will have another come November. It is the way of things.
Here is the reason for the existence of Weird Foreign Drinks Party – I am a masochist, but an entertaining, public sort of masochist, a performer of the disgusting. I will, initially, taste anything once; but unlike stronger men, I do not endure awful tastes with a stoic “Mm, it’s all right, actually” or shrug it off with a minimum of fuss – I writhe, I swear, I spit, I invent new words to describe the awfulness of the tastes on offer, to besmirch the character of the person who made it. I am a poet when it comes to revulsion; a dancer, a sideshow freak: The Disgusted Boy. Here I am eating a green tea mochi that’s been soaked in Mezcal, Soy Sauce and Vinegar:
My friends, bless their hearts, arrive in dribs and drabs; this is a small flat, and it is almost full of my wife and I, so it results in the sort of party that you must Attend with your full attention – there just isn’t enough space to blend into the background. Being The First, and taking the brunt of my nervous, slightly-drunk hospitality (“Sit down – can I get you a drink – do you want some curry – are you okay for drinks – do you want a chapati, I made them myself – do you want a snack maybe instead – here, try this – do you want another drink – maybe we should play a game – oh for heaven’s sake, let us play a game so we don’t have to work out when it’s okay for one another to speak and we can just rely on pre-defined rules to enforce proper social interaction – I’m sorry I haven’t tidied better – do you want some more curry” etc, rinse, repeat) is challenging, I assume, so everyone tries to avoid it, and I can’t blame them.
Still, eventually, despite themselves, people arrive. We show off our wares, and combine them, and compare tasting notes in a sort of freewheeling “get that the fuck away from me” kinda way – the general taste of all of them averages out as somewhere between Not Awful to Pretty Grim.
THE SOY SAUCE
But then – soy sauce. Soy sauce is the signifier that things have Gone Too Far, and I love it – anyone can handle the super-sweetness of, say, artificial grape drink from a pleasing metal bottle, the unusual texture of grass jelly pop, even the curious frogspawn-like Basil Seed Drink that comes in a wide-bottomed bottle and slops out into the glass then sits alongside the vodka, refusing to mix with it. Those are all unpleasant but, we can tell, intended for consumption in this way. You are supposed to put them in a glass and drink them; if you don’t enjoy it, it’s not for you.
Then we have Soy Sauce, which is a weird foreign drink in that it is foreign and you are considered weird if you drink it, which I am, and I do. We have my friend James to thank for its introduction – he is the pioneer of a shot called the Kikkoman Kick, which is, in full:
One part vodka
One part soy sauce
It is, for me, the poster-child for Weird Foreign Drinks. I can look back at the post-it notes we have on our wall to see what I thought of it the first time I tasted it; we keep a record on our wall, for always, less a celebration or a living recipe book but more a warning, the way that Dwarf miners might scratch “We have dug too deep, and doomed us all” in a diary.
The review for the Kikkoman Kick is – “Like having the sea come in your mouth.” I stand by that; it is intense, impossibly salty, brisk, invigorating and enervating at once. The powerful disgust leaves you hollow but pushes you up into something bright and clear, like a man walking free of a near-fatal collision with a serious head injury. You are alive, and you know this, because you – for a second – felt several inches closer to death. The vodka is a distant echo; the soy sauce does all the legwork in the shot, and if I hadn’t seen him pour it into the glass, I wouldn’t have known it was even there.
I can recommend the Kikkoman Kick in the same way other, better people might recommend strenuous exercise; you feel better for having done it. Every shot is an achievement.
THE DEATH OF THE MOUTH
Anyway. The party continues, and there is a stage in the night where I become jaded on a cellular level; my mouth, having absorbed every weird fluid in the house for the last four hours, starts to run out of sense. My tastebuds stop responding. Every drink – that is every drink aside, perhaps, from the Kikkoman Kick – starts to taste the same.
The taste is weird and foreign both, in that these drinks often, unlike our soft drinks, taste of more than one thing – my American friend Leigh had an excellent point about US cuisine (and, therefore, American soft drinks) in that the food of other countries might have upwards of four or five flavours combined into something special but, in her country, food has a TASTE. Maybe two tastes, at most, but everything is geared towards delivering a single knockout blow.
Foreign drinks taste of too much, I fear; too many herbs, too many curious flowers and sweeteners, too many things that we would not strictly consider to be beverages slopped into cans and sold to unsuspecting chumps like myself, chumps on some wide-eyed culinary safari.
So; they all begin to taste pretty much the same, the taste equivalent of a television tuned to a dead channel, and as the party winds down and I rub out more and more of my faculties to understand what’s going on in my mouth with a barrage of corn syrup and cigarette smoke, I just accept glasses of Whatever and can’t really formulate an opinion. I shift back to beer. (I have, secretly, whisper it, just been drinking beer all night, with this perverse mouthwar a sort of personal, and at the same time very public, challenge.)
We say our goodbyes at about one am and I am drunk, now, but also high, and also my mouth is fully ruined; and my wife and I kiss and say what a nice time we had and I, somehow, in a dramatic break from character, decide to Tidy Up.
We grab the half-drunk bottles and cans and pour them down the sink; we wash up the plates, the bowls, the serving-trays of Japanese mochi, the empty bowls that held wasabi peas, scrub the tumeric stains off the kitchen worksurface. I stand at the sink, watching it all slop down the plughole, and occasionally – rarely – find a bottle of something that I didn’t hate that I tasted earlier, and I take an experimental sip, and –
Sadness, really, a feeling of being unseated and uncertain. There isn’t a word to describe it but – you know how, at the end of a night out dancing, you finally decide that it’s time to go home and you say goodbye to your friends and put on your coat and walk back out through the club – and you see how everything seems so plastic, so distant now, as you walk away from it, as you feel the glamour break apart and fall off, and what was once exciting to you now just underlines how far away you are from home, and how tired you are, and how much you want to sleep?
That. It tastes like that. It always tastes like that.
Then bed; and the next day, a strange hangover, as much sugar as it is booze, with a mouth that point-blank refuses to entertain the idea of breakfast that isn’t coated in salt. Some dark alchemy happens in our mouths overnight, and they become almost hydrophobic; coffee just slides down, barely making contact with my tongue, bacon crashes against my teeth like waves on the rocks. It takes a full day to recover, to taste things properly again.
And we will do it again, because it is fun to make up names, and because (I should note that I scarcely believe this myself) this time we made two drinks that were good enough to drink twice, which were a) Black Irish, which consists of Black coffee drink and Dubliner liqueur, and b) Cthulhu, which consists of Midori, Melon Soda, Kraken spiced rum, and sour gummy tentacles that protrude ominously from the glass.
And because, crucially, there is something inherently wonderful to share awful things with one another – it is a foxhole of a party, a sort of communal hazing session, where you can say “Jesus Fuck this is awful, try it” and the most common response will be enthusiastic consent followed by equally enthusiastic disgust, and that’s wonderful.
BONUS CONTENT – DRINKS NEVER TO MAKE AGAIN