The Japanese are well-known for their variety of instant foods and drinks, and they can be either very appetising or downright bizarre. They appear to be quite the madmen when crafting drinks that feature a startling blend of opposing flavours. Here are some of the weirdest:
You may not willingly eat a bug, so how about drinking it? While it looks like a cockroach, it’s actually a Water Bug that’s endemic to many parts of East Asia. Named “Konchu Sour” in Japanese, it’s an alcoholic drink (abv 5%) that’s made from male Taiwanese giant water bug extract, which is said to have a sweet-ish flavour comparable to shellfish like shrimp. The producer is a bug farm (no surprise), and apparently you can smell the males’ pheromones among the fruity bouquet of this beverage. Er… kanpai?
Pokka Sapporo Canned Curry Drink
The latest bizarre drink is crafted by Pokka Sapporo: canned curry! If you crave Japanese-style curry rice, then you can easily down this drink which boasts a mix of beef, pork, and vegetables cooked with 10 different spices. This Curry na Kibun Chukara (meaning “I Feel Like Some Medium-Spicy Curry”) is offered in a resealable top can, available either pre-heated or room-temperature. If you don’t feel like drinking your meal, you’re onto the right idea – it’s supposedly meant to be paired with a rice ball.
Kimura Curry Bread Cider
The Japanese love their curry, which is also available in bread form called ‘Curry Pan’ or ‘curry bread’ – and manufacturer Kimura Drink has actually combined the flavours of the beloved Curry Pan with cider (in Japan, they’re non-alcoholic, fizzy beverages similar to lemonade) into one Curry Pan Cider. Since a Curry Pan is literally a deep-fried or baked bread with a stuffing of curry, it can be hard to imagine it as a drink, especially a carbonated one. The company also makes other flavoured drinks inspired by popular pastries, like Anpan Cider (red bean paste bread) and Melon Pan Cider (melon bread).
Tombow Beverage Kanazawa Curry Cola
As if you didn’t realise that the Japanese have an unhealthy obsession with curry, here’s another drink that proves it. Released in 2016, Kanazawa Curry Cola is based on the Ishikawa Prefecture’s specialty dish Kanazawa Curry: a large fried pork cutlet (tonkatsu) soaked in a rich curry sauce and topped with tangy tonkatsu sauce. Imagine the taste of cola flavoured with the complex tastes of curry and tonkatsu sauce.
Curry flavours are so popular there’s more than one version of Curry Ramune – ramune is a classic Japanese soda that’s characterised by its unique bottle neck that has a marble in it. The curry-flavoured ramune has a hint of sweet and savoury, described as a regular lemon-lime flavoured ramune with a hint of curry.
If you think this flavour is weird, there are other weirder ones. These include Takoyaki Ramune (which has the flavour of takoyaki sauce that gives the drink a zesty tinge, with a tiny hint of octopus at the end), Kimchi Ramune (which can be described as a watery version of the fermented snack), and Corn Potage which is basically corn soup with the flavour of corn and butter.
Kimura Unagi Cola
Kimura Drinks has another bizarre cola flavour: Unagi (Eel) Cola! It may come as no surprise, because Kimura is based in Shizuoka Prefecture which is famous for unagi. Boasting eel essence, one would expect the cola to have a hint of eel in every sip of this cola. According to various taste tests, the cola – in a bottle that looks like eel sauce – actually tasted more cola than unagi.
Unagi-Nobori Eel Soda
Way back in 2008, Japan Tobacco Inc. released the Unagi-Nobori Soda – as an energy drink to be consumed during summer (many Japanese, mainly men, believe eating eel boosts stamina in hot weather). This fizzy, yellow-coloured tonic is infused with a generous helping of eel extract from the head and bones of eel, along with 5 vitamins (A, B1, B2, D and E) contained in the fish. Yum.
If you’re familiar with gyoza, then you’ll know that this pan-fried pork dumpling dish has pretty strong flavours, thanks to the amount of garlic. What happens when you co-opt its flavours into a lemony, carbonated drink called Gyoza Cider? A bizarre experience – this is because you won’t be able to get rid of the aroma of garlic chives.
Jats! Taccola (Garlic Cola)
If you can’t get enough garlic, there’s Jats Taccola – a cola flavoured with (you guessed it) garlic. Hailing from the garlic capital of Japan (“Garlic Town” aka Takko Town in Aomori), thee town offers pretty much any form of garlic you could ever imagine, like garlic ice cream and garlic beer. This cola simply contains finely ground garlic, which makes the bubbly drink taste like normal cola, with a pleasant aftertaste of garlic.
Namco Potato Chips Cola
In other bizarre cola flavours, Namco (the chain of amusement centres) and Calbee (the potato chip makers) have come together to create the Potato Chips Cola which is said to have the flavour of potato chips washed down with cola. Prior to this cola, Namco distributed cola-flavoured potato chips, so this isn’t such a big leap for them. Released in 2015, they were only available as prizes from claw machines at Namco amusement centres.
Morinaga Pancake Drink (Hotcake Milkshake)
Combining the best of pancakes and milkshakes, Morinaga’s now-discontinued Hotcake Milkshake canned drink certainly knew how to turn heads. Morinaga is best known for its instant pancake mix, but the company decided the most convenient way to consume its pancake (or hotcake) is to drink it. The drink is a light brown, creamy concoction that’s as sweet as you can imagine – and is probably great as a cocktail.
Care to guess what “Bilk” is short for? It’s actually “beer” and “milk” – two ingredients no one saw coming together. This beverage was produced by the Nakahara liquor shop, at a time when there was a nationwide surplus of milk. The drink apparently takes on the flavour and colour of milk tea, and when it cools, it acquires the final colour of the beer with 5% ABV. While this product is no longer available, the idea of a ‘milk beer’ is no stranger to brewers – lactic acid used in fermentation can give a milky edge to many sour beers.
Onigiri (rice ball) Drink
You may be familiar with Japanese onigiri (rice balls) which you can find these days at many 7-11 outlets, but how about a drinkable version? Yokoo Daily Foods released its Nobu Onigiri (or Drinkable Rice Ball) line in 2019, with two plum flavours to choose from: ume katsuo (bonito fish) and ume kombu (seaweed). Despite being a ‘drink’ the squeezable pouch actually contains the rice balls in gelatin form (which resembles something regurgitated), complete with bits of rice and plums.