Enjoying Root Beer in Thailand

Root beer is not popular in Japan, which makes things tough for me as both Japan watcher and root beer lover. During my stays in the country, the high prices at the import stores – formerly the only place that sells the stuff before the rise of discount stores – forced me to regard my beloved root beer as a rare treat to be enjoyed alone or in the company of other foreigners.

Attempts have been made to add the drink to the usual lineup of carbonated drink products, but the Japanese consumers are apparently having none of it. Why?

Japanese friends have told me it tastes like medicine. Wikipedia tells me that the specific reason root beer fails to gain popularity outside Okinawa (a legacy of extended US occupation) and US military bases (see previous paretheses) is because drinking it makes you smell like you’re wearing a compress. I have always found the comparison somewhat insulting. I mean, root beer used to be a folk medicine – it’s supposed to taste that way!

Thankfully, the Thais have absolutely no problem with stinky food (take dorians – please!). It was with great pleasure that I have found root beer to be plentiful here. Not only can one find A&W cans on the shelves of the ubiquitous 7-11s, right next to Coke and some unsettlingly hypersweet Lipton Iced Tea, but the A&W fast food chain is alive and well throughout Bangkok. You might be unfamiliar with A&W restaurants as they have a limited presence in many US states, but they but are, rest assured, a nationwide chain (and big in Canada!). They serve a lot of fried food and are known for having good curly fries (true) and chili dogs (not as true). Here I am hugging a statue of their beloved mascot the Great Root Bear (who knew they had a mascot?!) before enjoying their signature root beer in a frosty mug:

Adam and AW Bear 092306.JPG

Unlike the A&W cans, which for some reason taste almost like Dr. Pepper (blech), the root beer at the restaurant is authentic and delicious. We also had curly fries, which were good as ever, and some fried chicken that was OK but doesn’t hold a candle to some of the awesome fried chicken you get at street vendors around Bangkok. One interesting feature of the menu is that waffles a la mode are offered along with the rest of the value meals, served with curly fries and apparently intended to be eaten as a full-fledged meal. Sounds good to me!

  1. I too love rootbeer, but my Japanese wife refuses to drink the stuff. She says it tastes like bubblegum. (I must admit that she’s right.)

  2. It’s not just the Japanese—ask any European what they think of the stuff. (“It tastes like toothpaste!”)

    Looking good their Adamu, losing weight, no?

  3. Curly fries! I clearly missed out when I was in Thailand.

    Not a fan of root beer myself, but my cousin Dylan who is English loves the stuff, and when he comes to visit complains how hard it is to find in London.

  4. I always understood that there was a children’s medicine in Europe (and maybe Japan) that tasted just like Dr. Pepper.

  5. Indeed, I have heard the same thing, but have yet to locate what specific medicine it’s supposed to be. I’ll gladly buy a root beer for anyone who can give me some answers.

  6. Or you could just buy the medicine as a Dr. Pepper substitute.

    Actually, in Taiwan there’s a fairly popular domestic soda called 黒松 (pronounced hei-song in Chinese), which tastes a lot like Dr. Pepper, likewise based on old-timey sasparilla drinks from the early 20th century.

  7. My wife says it smells like 湿布 and refuses to drink it. I love the stuff and buy it when I go to Kaldi Coffee and Carnival in Kichijoji.

  8. yuck yuck yuck.

    I am also one of those people who think root beer tastes like medicine.

    Surely there is some sort of cough mixture you can find in Japan that tastes just like strong root beer. Buy a bottle of that and water it down.

  9. Durf: do you really mean Shippu? I mean, that’s so meaninglessly popular in Japan that I would think a Shippu-flavored drink would be popular here.

  10. Yeah, shippu—those medicinal pads you slap on your sore muscles to make them just as sore, but smelly. Or something. Maybe my short gaijin intestines prevent the things from working on me. Anyway, I think shippu-flavored drinks are popular already. They call them “happôshu” though.

    Maybe we could start a guerrilla marketing campaign to convince people that root beer will give them an erection. Erm, I mean “stamina to work long hours, you brave salaryman you.” Once the campaign goes mainstream we’ll get one of those old genki-drink standbys like Tokoro George or Tamori to be in the ads.