Sunday, August 05, 2007

Gimme Seltzer

Just in time for the recent heat waves, Twin City supermarket began stocking 12-can cases of seltzer.

I was pleased because seltzer by the case was one of my staples when I used to shop at the A&P in Fanwood. But since I have done without a car, lugging it home any other way just seemed like too much trouble. Now I can use my trusty folding shopping cart to roll several cases half a block from Twin City to my humble abode.

While loading up on seltzer, I began looking at all the varieties of soda in the aisle. Shopping at Twin City often finds me bogged down in a visual exploration of all the unusual (to me) brands and flavors of food and drink. The soda aisle was no exception.

Here were big bottles of pineapple, coconut and banana soda. There was dark red sangria-flavored soda along with apple and tamarind flavors. Yerba mate, a favored South American tea, was also on sale on soda form.

But by far the strangest potion on the shelves was in bottles with Polish labels and a picture of a dark loaf on the label. Yes, an English translation confirmed, it was bread-flavored soda.

Despite the well-known use of grain-based libations in Polish culture, I doubted there was actually any grain involved in making this soda. Most of the sodas seemed to be made of high-fructose corn syrup, carbonated water and artificial flavors. The image of the bread loaf on the label led me to online descriptions of kvass, a popular Polish and Russian drink made from rye bread. There were few references to bread-flavored soda, although one person used the phrase deprecatingly to describe beer.

On the spectrum from plain water to these unusual soda flavors, seltzer seemed kind of bland. I like it because no sugar is involved. I think of it as “water that does something.” Years ago In Olympia, Washington, I encountered a carbonated water called “Talking Rain,” a name that echoed my notion.

This little shopping trip exemplified the difference between going to the A&P for all the standard American brands and going to Twin City to see what my new neighbors in Plainfield like to eat and drink. On another visit, I found out that the same oatmeal that I remember from school days - in a bowl with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar – is the basis for a popular drink called “avena.” The same jolly Quaker gentleman from the oatmeal box is on the bags of avena in Twin City.

--Bernice Paglia


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