Favourite Asian Childhood Drinks

Non-alcoholic drinks are under-rated drinks. In Australia, when someone suggests we all go out for drinks, it’s always in reference to beers or fine wines. I don’t drink and when I politely decline alcoholic beverages and order a soft drink, sometimes I get funny looks from those who do. And a lot of us like soft drinks. And juice.

Walk into an Asian grocery shop in Melbourne, you're bound to find such an array of drinks. Maybe some you drank as a kid. Photo: Mabel Kwong

Walk into an Asian grocery shop in Melbourne, you’re bound to find such an array of drinks. Maybe some you drank as a kid. Photo: Mabel Kwong

I’m sure many of us loved certain non-alcoholic drinks when we were kids. A while ago, I wrote about my favourite childhood snacks. Looking back at that post, it occurred to me none of the snacks I reminisced about were drinks. But then again, food and drink are two different kinds of gastronomic consumables.

Part of my childhood was spent in Malaysia and Singapore, two food paradise places where sugary drinks and desserts are aplenty. I remember as a kid, I was very happy when I got the chance to guzzle down many non-alcoholic, made-in-Asia drinks. Perhaps I should buy or make some of them to ring in the New Year:

Tins of Milo (left) and bottles of Pokka ice lemon tea (right). Photo: Mabel Kwong

Tins of Milo (left) and bottles of Pokka ice lemon tea (right). Photo: Mabel Kwong

1.      Condensed milk Milo

Each blazing sunny afternoon after classes in Malaysia, me and my primary school classmates rushed to the canteen to get our free glasses of – ironically – piping hot, condensed milk Milo. The Indian canteen staff ladies made this thick, oh-so-sweet Milo under the hot zinc roof of the canteen. It amazed me how they always managed to make the drink’s dark brown texture so smooth and consistent – all Milo particles melted well, never resurfaced and never made an appearance at the bottom of our empty plastic glasses. For me, no other cup of Milo has tasted better than this.

2.      Pokka (ice) lemon tea

My classmates and I bought this in Singapore from the vending machines after we changed out of our sticky PE attire during recess. The zesty, sweet bottled drink never failed to give us sugar rushes, making us alert long enough to pay attention in the class after recess.

Yeo's soya bean milk (right) and bottles of Ribena (right). Photo: Mabel Kwong

Yeo’s soya bean milk (right) and bottles of Ribena (right). Photo: Mabel Kwong

3.      Soya bean milk

This was a drink my mum always championed. According to her, soya milk is high in calcium. I like the taste of soy and the smoothness of this milk . When I accompanied my mum to the wet markets in Malaysia, she frequently suggested we order freshly-made glasses of soya bean milk to go with our breakfast here. If not, she insisted on taking away 80-cent chilled-but-no-ice, plastic bag packets of this drink.

4.      Ribena

Back when we all thought Ribena was actually full of vitamin C, my mum constantly stocked up 1 litre bottles of this syrupy goodness in the fridge. I cheekily poured generous amounts of Ribena syrup into my cup mixing it with water and she repeatedly chided me for this. C’mon, who doesn’t like the taste of blackcurrant? I reckon Ribenna is the closest non-alcoholic drink that tastes like an alcoholic one.

Yakult (left) and pink strawberry milk (right). Photo: Mabel Kwong

Yakult (left) and pink strawberry milk (right). Photo: Mabel Kwong

5.      Yakult

Whenever the orange or grape flavoured 100ml serving of this probiotic dairy product was available in my Singapore school’s canteen during recess, I happily bought one for 60 cents. I never felt satiated drinking this tiny bottle of Yakult. Never.

6.      Pink strawberry milk

This was a drink that I – and perhaps some others – persistently begged for as a kid in Australia and Malaysia. I don’t know why. It’s just sweetened, flavoured milk. But when drunk chilled, it tastes like strawberry ice cream.

Yeo's winter melon (left) and Ovaltine sharing the spotlight with Milo (right). Photo: Mabel Kwong

Yeo’s winter melon (left) and Ovaltine sharing the spotlight with Milo (right). Photo: Mabel Kwong

7.      Yeo’s winter melon

On days when I didn’t buy Pokka ice lemon tea at recess, I usually bought this instead. It was never popular with my friends though. Maybe it’s because winter melon tastes considerably plainer than other fruits that leave lasting impressions in our mouths, for instance tangy orange, sour grapes and sweet mangoes.

8.      Ovaltine

This is a drink that I like to call Milo’s sad sister, a drink that tends to be known as the healthier but unfortunately less sweet, chocolately version of Milo. It was a treat whenever I got to drink a hot cup of this malt drink at home – 99% of the time my mum bought Milo over Ovaltine as the latter contains more chocolate and she thought this was “worth our money”.

Kickapoo (left) and grass jelly drinks alongside a basil seed drink, which I also liked as a kid (right). Photo: Mabel Kwong

Kickapoo (left) and grass jelly drinks alongside a basil seed drink, which I also liked as a kid (right). Photo: Mabel Kwong

9.      Kickapoo / Joy Juice

This soft drink was extremely popular at hawker centres in Malaysia and the drink stall attendants recommended it to me all the time. When I was a kid, I naively thought this citrus-flavoured “Joy Juice” fizzy drink made us feel happy when we chugged down a saccharinely sweet can. In Malaysia, locals pronounce it as “Kih-kah-pohhh”.

10.     Cincau / grass jelly drinks

These “cooling” drinks with cubes of grass jelly – made from the mint plant mesona chinesis – floating in them were extremely refreshing on hot, humid Malaysian days. I always preferred the “black” grass jelly drink (cincau) compared to the “white” one which contains a good dose of soya milk. Cincau was also a drink I ordered occasionally at hawker centres in Kuala Lumpur – they were quite pricey.

What are some of the drinks you loved drinking while growing up?

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22 thoughts on “Favourite Asian Childhood Drinks

  1. I think I liked drinking plain milk while growing up and then I liked pineapple juice. However, my favorite drinks now are water and coffee. By the way, I like grass jelly but in a form of dessert that Thai people eat them with syrup and ice.

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    • I liked pineapple juice a lot too. And I still do. Fruit juice is very much accessible anywhere today, so it’s not hard to buy and not too expensive to make ourselves as well. I’ve tried grass jelly in dessert-form. I like it if it comes with not-too-much-sickly-sweet syrup 🙂

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  2. Fabulous to take a stroll down this sugary drink memory lane! Ticked off most of them from my own list, except the joy juice and winter melon drinks.

    When I was younger, I always thought the ‘Western’ version of soymilk – sold in health food stores, etc. – was an absolute travesty. It was gluggy and not sweet. WTF? Only later did I realise that our Yeo’s ‘soyabean drink’ was possibly only a small percentage soymilk, and mostly water and sugar. AND IT’S DELICIOUS on a hot day.

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    • Seems like we have a lot in common, Tseen 🙂 I don’t know why Joy Juice isn’t more popular with Westerners. Perhaps it’s because it’s not sold in Safeway or Coles. Or maybe they don’t like the taste. It’s really hard to describe the taste of Joy Juice to be honest.

      Have to agree with you that the Australian-made version of soymilk is an absolute travesty. A nightmare. Extremely diluted and from memory, it barely tastes of soy. Yeo’s does it better but the best soy milk drinks are those handmade from soya beans right in front of you.

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  3. Well it’s a pity you can’t get any of these in pubs or bars when you go out with friends – that could solve Australia’s alcohol problems! That Milo with condensed milk sounds better than any Milo I’ve ever had. My favourite drink as a child was the Christmas punch my dad always made – ginger ale, lemonade, mint, tropical fruit juice (orange, pineapple, passionfruit mix) and passionfruit ice-cubes. Yuuuum. But store-bought, I think my favourite was lemon cordial – sweet and tart and cold.

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    • Come to think of it, the only drinks you can get in pubs and bars are beer, spirits, soft drinks and sparkling water. That Christmas punch sounds absolutely delicious! I hope your dad still makes it today 🙂 I remember liking cordial a lot too and lemon was one of my favourite cordial flavours, mainly because the other flavours such as apple, strawberry and grape come in really bright colours and I was terrified my insides would turn bright red/orange/blue when I drunk these flavours!

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    • No more condensed milk? I’m pretty sure you can get condensed milk in Woolies or Coles in Australia. In all honesty, I rarely see anyone here make their drinks using condensed milk anymore 😦 Yes, condensed milk is sweet and sinful, but it makes drinks taste so good.

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        • Ah, that’s ok! My parents are Malaysian. I also spent some time in Asia and sound a bit Malaysian…so I do seem Malaysian in many aspects 🙂 I’m quite sure there’s still condensed milk drinks in Malaysia, especially in the coffee shops and hawker centres? No?

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        • Creamers?! 😦 I wonder why hawker centres would use them. I thought Marigold, Dutch Lady and F&N brands still stock condensed milk on Malaysia shelves, and so are highly accessible. I will need to take a look at the milk/creamer shelves at Giant or Jusco when I’m next in Malaysia. And I will peep at the uncles making the drinks in the hawker centres here.

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    • I remember Nestle’s chocolate QUIK. It was always the last thing my mum would ever buy and wasn’t too popular with my family. I did like the taste, though. A few years ago I discovered that there’s something called Nestle “Magic” Straws – tiny chocolate balls in thick straws that you can use to drink milk with. I’ve never tried those, but I think I should!

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  4. I remember drinking Milo and Yakult in Thailand as a child. I was so excited when I could buy the latter in the UK. I like Bubble Tea now and that has become quite popular here over the last year or so.

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    • Yakult is usually available in most Asian groceries here in Australia. I hope that’s the case where you live! In my opinion, Yakult is a great dessert-drink to have after dinner 🙂 Yeah, bubble tea seems to be catching on everywhere. I can’t believe how expensive it is, though! A regular milk tea and pearls drink here in Melbourne costs at least $4-$5.

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      • Yes, Yakult is in every supermarket here. It started to become popular many years ago as healthy eating became really trendy so everyone was buying gogi berries, Manuka honey and yoghurt drinks like Yakult which helped digestion/cholesterol etc. Bubble tea is about £3-4 here which is pretty standard compared to coffee and tea chain beverages in the UK. I’m glad it becoming popular as I used to have to make it at home.

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  5. Pingback: Grass Jelly Drink | Beth Denny

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