Sure, all this food is intriguing and delicious, but what are you going to wash it down with? In many Asian cultures, the beverages are just as important as the food. Increasingly, some of the most popular drinks from various countries are becoming available in the U.S. But you’d better get a designated driver; many of these potions are mighty potent.
There are more than 100 kinds of ruou thuoc (or medicinal) wines made in Vietnam. A potent form of distilled rice alcohol, these beverages are infused with herbs, spices, fruits — and even whole snakes. A popular souvenir item, snake wine — often made with cobras or other poisonous critters — is said to boost health, particularly male virility.
If you want to do business in China, you simply must drink baijiu, an ancient white liquor distilled from various grains with an alcohol content of 40-60 percent. (No wonder it often earns the nickname Chinese firewater.) It is, apparently, the most sold alcoholic beverage in the world (selling well above number two, which is vodka). It’s finally making its way to the U.S.; a Texas entrepreneur is even making his own (slightly less alcoholic) version that he hopes will be more palatable to Americans.
Soju is Korea’s national drink. Similar to vodka — but just a bit sweeter — soju’s alcohol content varies, but usually hovers about 20 percent. With its relatively low price, it is often consumed via shot glass in large group gatherings, but it can be found in virtually every restaurant or bar in South Korea. Traditionally distilled from rice, it is now often made from sweet potatoes, barley, or tapioca. It is available at the restaurants Toro and Gomen-Kudosai, and at Viscount Liquors in Fishkill and Arlington Wine & Liquors in Poughkeepsie.
Everybody knows about sake, Japan’s popular rice wine, but umeshu — made from steeping unripe ume plum fruits in alcohol and sugar — has a popular sweet and sour taste, and a 20 percent alcohol content. In addition, there are many reported health benefits to this wine, which can be drunk with the main meal or as a dessert accompaniment.