One of the most fun parts of living near a Chinatown, as I used to do, is exploring the world of Asian snacks. From chewy squid sticks to those lychee jellies that were all the rage for a minute, Asian snack foods are inventive and often downright surprising for those of us raised on crisps and chocolate. But while salty snacks aren’t something I eat often, I have remained a fan of some Asian soft drinks: coconut water, aloe juice and honey drinks are widely available and lovely in the summer. But my favourite drink has proven hard to find in the UK, with Asian storekeepers looking perplexed when I ask for basil seed drink. I was unreasonably excited, therefore, to find a version in our local ‘ethnic’ store.
Basil seed drink looks a bit odd – either wonderfully fascinating or disgusting depending on your point of view. Suspended in the sweet drink are hundreds of Thai basil seeds, which turn gelatinous on contact with water and float like little frog spawn. Yum? I love it – it’s a bit like bubble tea, except the seeds are small and give just a little texture to the experience of drinking. You can chew them if you like, although they don’t taste of all that much. It’s more about texture. The drink itself can vary but they’re usually sweetened with honey or just sugar.
I’m wondering about making my own. Seeds are cheap and how great would it be to whip up a pitcher of this stuff for a summer afternoon? I could even grow some basil with whatever I don’t drink….