One of the great things about the World Cup season is that it gets Americans thinking about other cultures. Few of us can go and experience each of these places first hand, but a great way to do it without leaving home is through the flavors of a country or region’s cuisine.
Here in Charlotte we are very lucky to have a multitude of international grocery stores of all sizes that cater to all sorts of people and traditions. Sadly, for a lot of people these places can be intimidating with their unfamiliar sights, smells, and sounds. My favorite way to get over this hurdle is through soft drinks, which are an inexpensive and self-contained way to experience those flavors.
Most of us are familiar with the Mexican brand Jarritos, with flavors like mango and pineapple, which can easily be found in most mainstream grocery stores around town. If you want to try something a little more adventurous, you can take a stroll through Super G Mart on Independence Boulevard, where you can find drinks from almost any region of the world.
Some of the things I found on a recent trip included Kbac (Kvass) from Russia; Chicha Morada, a Peruvian drink made of blue corn; Laziza apple soda from Lebanon; Mitsuya Cider, made by Asahi in Japan; and Guarana Brazilia from World Cup host Brazil.
One of my favorite discoveries came from an Indo-Pakistani grocer in the University area. It was a cream soda that had a hint of rose water. It was delicious, but it could have been awful. Even if it had been, I would be out the grand total of $1.50. It seems a small price to pay for an adventure.
Next time you are in the vicinity of a small ethnic grocer, or perhaps one of the larger international grocery stores, I urge you to stop in and see what you can find.
Kevin Gavagan is a musician, cabinetmaker, and a cocktail connoisseur. He's still searching for the perfect location to open his bar, Haunt, but until then he'll continue to bring his classic and modern cocktail interpretations to pop-up events around the Charlotte region. Follow him @HauntBar.