Monday, January 25, 2010

Local Sweet Tooth

One of my favorite lunch places near work in Austin is Phoenicia Bakery and Deli on South Lamar. While I wait for my falafel or gyro to be ready, it's fun to browse through the wide selection of import groceries from around the globe. A lot of the food is Middle Eastern and Persian, but they carry Mexican and British imports as well. The soda cooler is a microcosm of this variety, and this means some exotic beverages you won't find at HEB. The other day I picked out a Materva Yerba Mate soda to go with my sandwich, and it was pretty tasty. The green-tea quality of yerba mate cuts through all the sugar. Looking at the label, Materva is bottled in Miami, but where does the recipe originate? One Wikipedia search later, and I find that it started being bottled in Cuba in the 1920's, but after the revolution the rights were bought by the Cawy Bottling Company in Miami, who still produce it today.

Materva is certainly not the only regional soft drink out there. When I lived in Los Angeles, I found this great place called Galco's Soda Pop Stop that specializes in small label sodas and beers from around the world. Galco's started diversifying their soda selection partially in protest against the high wholesale prices that Coca Cola, Pepsi, etc. were charging them. Now the huge variety you can find there is clearly driven now by the passion of the owner, John F. Nese, who I met and who is a font of knowledge about all things soda. It feels like a living museum when you visit there.

I did notice that BevMo started carrying some of the same sodas a number of years ago, but it's sad to me that you don't find them elsewhere in other stores. When people talk about the "lovavore" food movement it's usually just referring to locally produced healthy foods. But what about local junk food and sodas? Can't our sweet tooth can be local as well. This can also preserve the local cultural history of these products. For example, Big Red, popular in Central Texas, began production in Waco, TX in 1937. There's Fago Original Rock & Rye from Detroit,Red Ribbon Cherry Supreme from Natrona Bottling Company in Pennsylvania, etc. So much history! So much to drink! What's your favorite local junk food or drink?

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