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:
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!