Saturday, September 12, 2009
Setting aside Japanese history for a moment, I thought I'd delve into quirky Japanese drinks. Tonight, after a great time at a good Korean restaurant, our group stopped at Don Quijote - the pseudo-Japanese superstore in Honolulu to pick up some things. We made the rounds, from eggplants to overpriced bread to a hot chocolate debate, to a giant grotesque block of uncut luncheon-meat, to the meaning of the date on a package of ground beef (packing date or expiration?), through the fish to the Nabe supplies.
On a whim, we stopped in the Japanese drink aisle with the bend-over-and-take-it prices, and perused the aisle. And there it was. Pepsi Shiso ("Shiso" being known as "Perilla" to the rest of the world). The green hourglass shaped bottle with twisting groves in the plastic evokes images of an ancient Egyptian artifact; subtle curves topped off with an attractive white cap that belies the true nature of the emerald liquid trapped beneath.
Having had Pepsi Shiso misrepresented to me by my compatriots as "good", I spent the money I got selling a kidney on the black market for one bottle, certain it would be worth it. So eager to try this mystical green nectar, I opened it at the register, and tried it.
In every man's life, there is a moment - a moment where everything changes, a moment you never forget. A moment that changes your perception of life and reality. A bookmark tagged in your mind, burned forever which you will compare everything that happened before, and after. This was my moment. So many things ran through my mind at that moment. I lived an entire lifetime in seconds. The smell, and then taste, of Pepsi Shiso sent dormant neurons firing in all directions. I saw entire universes born and die, and stars form, explode, and re-form. I saw eternity in a clear plastic bottle. At that moment, I realized how long eternity is, particularly how long it would be, with Pepsi Shiso.
The Japanese are typically famous for taking something and making it better. Oh, the irony. You just can't take something that is marginal at best, liquify it, and assume it is going to be better. After all, what is the essence of bad? Pepsi Shiso takes everything that is good about Shiso- the wrapped mochi, anko - and throws it away, leaving just the limp, damp shiso leaf. Take an unsweetened bottle of Sprite, add some green food coloring, chew a shiso leaf, spit the juice into the bottle, and voila, you have Pepsi Shiso. It is truly horrendous, but shockingly like a liquid car crash in a bottle - horrifying and disturbing, but at the same time... it's hard to pull your lips away. It consists of mainly three things - the very authentic, overpowering shiso smell that emanates from the bottle, the very light carbonated base, and the brutal shiso slap in the face. Shiso "juice" was not meant to be consumed. I don't really think it was meant to be eaten either, but that's another story altogether. It leaves you feeling slightly disturbed, and with an aftertaste that feels very much like you have chewed a shiso leaf and maybe some sugar. In a sense, it's sort of like natto - it can be eaten, and many people eat it, but most people really don't want to. Just because something can be eaten doesn't mean it should be. You wouldn't drink crabgrass tea, and you probably wouldn't drink cilantro juice, and Pepsi Shiso falls into this category. Just because you can make something, doesn't mean you should. Look at the Segway and the Snuggie.
For such an attractive bottle and intriguing concept, it is shockingly horrid stuff. I will keep the bottle, just like Tupac kept the bullets that almost killed him the first time, as a reminder of what is and what should never be. Even Chinchin Tea seems almost drinkable now. Almost.