Best Fruit Juice in the World
Miami Beach, United States
Roosh, a regular reader and commenter of this site (who recently launched his South America travel guides after returning from a six-month jaunt in the continent), e-mailed and asked to contribute an article. I approached him with a similar request a month or two ago (trying to find a home for some content written that seemed more in line with the audience of his site), and I'm more than happy to do the same for him.
The Best Juice in the World
One of the pleasures of traveling through South America was the constant availability of fresh juice, especially in Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. There the cafes have more juice selection than actual coffee drinks, and if you grab a fixed lunch at a restaurant (almuerzo), chances are it will come with a glass of juice. Ask the waiter what juice is being served and he'll look up and rattle off names as if they were on the wall in front of him, sort of like asking an American waiter what beer is on tap.
Before I get to the best juice in the world, I have to share the worst. It's papaya, a fruit grown in the tropics of the Americas. If you are walking in a Lima supermarket and get hit by an offensive dirty feet stench, chances are you passed by a stack of ripe papayas. Unfortunately papaya tastes just like it smells, a cross between my dad's feet and vomit pools I unload when infected with whatever parasite I'm currently dealing with. It gets worse: after drinking a glass of papaya juice it takes only a couple hours for the smell to start coming out of your pores. Don't experiment with papaya on a weekend.
With that behind us, the best juice in the world is… açaí, found in Brazil. Technically I didn't taste it in juice form but a dark purple slurpee paste, composed of powdered sugar, ice, açaí berry fruit (grown in tropical Brazil), and guarana, a tarty fruit naturally loaded with caffeine. Each juice shop varies their amounts of ingredients so it's worth it to sample different juice bars when deciding the açaí variation that suits you best (I like it light on the guarana and heavy on the sugar).
The drink is a relatively new creation that appeared in Brazil in the 90's, giving new life to the açaí growing industry. Because it is heavily caloric, you will see far more men than women consuming this pleasure (local lore has it that drinking a shake after a workout will do wonders for your musculature).
Chances are you haven't heard of açaí, but I'm confident you'll come across it again because of one reason: it is one of the most antioxidant dense foods in the world. As health-conscious Western consumers search for ways to act healthy while still eating fatty and processed foods, look for entrepreneurs to develop an açaí trend similar to what we have seen with pomegranate juice. As for me, I ended up spending a month in Brazil and I'm not sure what I miss more: the women or açaí.
My Thoughts on Fruit Juices and Shakes
Roosh is right, açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) is wonderfully delicious stuff. I was fortunate enough to indulge in several highly concentrated helpings whilst in Manaus. The stuff doesn't get any better than when you're eating it in the middle of the Amazon jungle, only kilometers from the source. You can read my blub on it in the travelogue entry Piranha for Dinner.
But when I think about the best and worst juice drinks in the world, my thoughts touch on the colorful, wildly inexpensive glasses of juice found on streets of Potosí, Bolivia—where a tall glass sells for only US$0.06! And then I start thinking about SE Asia, where I think I really found the home of the fruit juices I learned love and loathe.
Cambodia takes the number one spot in my heart for juice drinks. Banana-mango smoothies were more than a mild addition of mine in this place, with the street vendors regularly tossing in a raw egg, a cup of condensed milk, sugar, and a load of ice into the blender (along with a hefty helping of the fruits). Never before have I consistently eaten so many shakes as I did in Cambodia and the Philippines (who comes in a strong second for top-quality fruit shakes).
Also of note is the fresh strawberry juice from the strawberry farms in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia—a drink that Tatiana was especially keen on last year.
Sadly, it's also in SE Asia that the vilest fruit I've ever known happily thrives. Most countries in the region make no attempt to hide their love for foul-smelling fruit called durian. The stench is so penetrating that its presence is banned in many hotels and public transport systems, but is somehow appreciated as a delicacy. In Cambodia, ripened durians and papayas sit alongside the fruit shake vendors, waiting to be used for shakes. The stench of the two combined together was usually enough to ensure that I always got my drink in a takeaway plastic bag.