Here's a quick guide to some of those strange-looking, brightly-coloured drinks you can find all over the sidewalks of Asia. They are a boon on a hot, sweaty day and delicious any time.

Sugarcane juice, coconut juice and soursop (a dark green, acidic fruit) are ubiquitous libations at the food stalls in Southeast Asia. Great quenchers for spicy food. You can also check out other festive Asian-inspired drinks.

LIME JUICE: Somewhat lemonade-like. Dark green local limes are squeezed and the juice enhanced with sugar syrup. Popular after a greasy, spicy meal. A variation called "guai bee" includes a few dried, salty plums thrown into the glass.

lime juice

COCONUT JUICE: Comes from the milky liquid that pours out of the nut when it's cracked open. Often a whole coconut, with its top sliced into a point is offered. The top is sliced off to reveal the water within.

coconut juice

BANDUNG: A milky pink fluid concocted by a combo of rose syrup (commercially made with rose essence and syrup) and evaporated or condensed milk. Served cold.


GRASS JELLY DRINK: Black strings of jelly (made of agar-agar, a type of seaweed gelatin) are tossed into a mixture of sugar syrup.

SOYBEAN DRINK: Beans are liquidized into a watery substance and strained and boiled and sweetened with sugar. Can be served hot or cold.

soy milk

BARLEY WATER: This murky liquid is created by boiling barley with water with rock sugar dissolved into it. Often served with chicken rice.

barley water

LONGAN WATER or TEA: Red dates and dried longan (a translucent fruit similar to lychee) are boiled in water providing a sweet, amber drink.

logan tea

CENDOL: Short squiggles of green bean flour dough float in sweet coconut milk. A cold drink that is often served as a dessert (one of my faves!). You can spoon it up or suck it up.


TEH TARIK: Also known as "pulled tea." Strong-brewed Assam tea is meshed with condensed milk. The teh tarik master is someone who is skilled in pouring the sweet tea from a metal container held high above his head into another container held low below his waist. The master will repeat this several times until there's some froth before serving you. The act of "pulling" cools down the tea.

teh tarik

KOPI (Coffee): Strong, local black coffee is often served iced and mixed with condensed milk. This mixture is often served in recycled condensed milk cans, topped with a straw for easy sipping.

LASSI: An Indian yogurt-style drink sometimes flavoured with sugar, mango puree or rose water.


Come back next week for some intriguing Malaysian and Singaporean sippers – ones you can serve on a hot summer day.