Striving to eat like a local is one of the many ways to ensure an authentic experience when traveling. Sampling an area’s cuisine at the places its residents love, though, is just hitting the surface. What really elevates the experience is indulging in what the locals drink. The key is to remember that a meal or the setting doesn’t need to be fancy to have a sommelier-level drink selection that enhances the flavors and your enjoyment. Try these popular favorites, or put your language skills to good use and ask the table next to you what they’re having. From a divine cup of tea in Darjeeling to a mojito in Cuba, the world is full of unique drinks that you’ll be clamoring to replicate at home.
Drink: Caesar (vodka, Clamato, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, in a celery salt rimmed glass with a celery stalk and a lime wedge.) Canada’s national cocktail is a spicy tipple sure to warm you up.
Setting: The Westin Hotel in downtown Calgary is as close as one can get to the birthplace of the Caesar. It resides in the Calgary Inn building, the original hotel where creator Walter Chell perfected the mix.
Food Pairing: A natural pairing for brunch, this hangover-curing wake-up call goes perfectly with a big breakfast burrito.
Make at Home Score: Easy; chances are you have everything but the Clamato (found at most grocery stores) in your pantry already.
Drink: Sasakwa rum swizzle (dark rum, pineapple juice and orange garnish). This sweet, refreshing beverage is high in vitamin C, which is always a good idea after a long flights and a full day of exploring.
Setting: A delectable drink often enjoyed as a “safari sundowner”, it's sipped at the end of an African safari day to calm the adrenaline after those adventurous explorations. Watching the huge sun sinking down over the plains with a cocktail in hand is a very effective way to ease those close-encounter nerves.
Food Pairing: A light snack of nuts and dried fruit provides the perfect complement to the sweet pineapple flavor of this end-of-day treat.
Make at Home Score: Easy; its simple ingredients make the drink easy to replicate, but the accompanying view is pretty irreplaceable.
Drink: Mojito (rum, sugar, lime juice, sparkling water and mint). Its deceptively simple recipe doesn’t do justice to this drink’s minty complexities.
Setting: La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana was a reported favorite of Ernest Hemingway, and is still a popular destination. The wooden bar and autographed walls are a prominent display of the bar’s long history and make it easy to see how they’ve perfected their mojitos over the years.
Food Pairing: Keep things simple and delicious by enjoying with typical Cuban favorites of pork, rice, beans and plantains.
Make at Home Score: Medium; aside from muddling the mint with the sugar and lime juice, this drink is very simple to make, but cane sugar and fresh limes aren’t always on hand at home.
Drink: Darjeeling tea. Also known as the “Champagne of teas”, this amber-colored, fragrant tea typically has sweet notes of peaches and apricots with a hint of toasted nuttiness, and is most often served unadorned — no lemon, milk or sugar needed.
Setting: Darjeeling is grown high in the Himalayas of India and tea farms like the Glenburn Tea Estate cater to travelers who wish to experience the freshest tea and even visit the fields where the leaves are harvested and pluck fresh leaves themselves.
Food Pairing: Sip your Darjeeling tea from a delicate porcelain cup and savor fresh-made teacakes and cookies for the most traditional pairing. It will easily, when enjoyed surrounded by a backdrop as stunning as the Himalayan mountain range.
Make at Home Score: Easy; all you need to do is buy a bag of high-quality, loose-leaf tea and find a tea infuser that you love — they even make infusers in the shape of an elephant if you want to be reminded of India with every cup. (Pro tip: You can get tipsy on tea! Mix cooled Darjeeling tea with gin and other simple ingredients to make a variety of cocktails, including a journeyman’s dilemma, a Darjeeling gimlet or a Darjeeling gin fizz.)
Drink: Bubble Tea (tea base, usually with milk or fruit added, and always with small tapioca balls mixed in). Typically a creamy, non-alcoholic concoction, it's made in a variety of flavors and is sometimes called “boba tea”. It’s a fun drink with its unique chewy bursts.
Setting: Chun Shui Tang teahouse in Taichung is widely accepted as the birthplace of bubble tea. A staff member added her sweet tapioca pudding snack to her iced tea out of boredom in 1988. The shop has perfected its recipes in the decades since, making it a prime sampling stop.
Food Pairing: A savory snack pairs perfectly with this sweet drink. Traditional pan-fried turnip cake delivers that salty contrast and adds some crunch to go with your chewy drink.
Make at Home Score: Medium; Cooking the tapioca pearls can take some time, but after that, it’s as simple as brewing tea and shaking the ingredients up. Use a thick straw so you can enjoy the pearls, too!
Drink: Mama Juana (tree bark and herbs soaked in a bottle of rum, red wine and honey). This slightly thick, sweet drink is often taken as a shot and is known for its alleged aphrodisiac qualities.
Setting: A beachside bar at a resort in Punta Cana is a laidback way to enjoy the potent concoction. (For quality assurance, make sure it’s poured from a bottle by your bartender, and not a less-reputable beach-strolling vendor.)
Food Pairing: Since many claim it’s an aphrodisiac and it’s been nicknamed the “baby maker”, this libation is best enjoyed with dessert.
Make at Home Score: Easy; sip it straight, or use it in place of a spiced rum to create your own cocktail.
Savor the flavors of a new destination. Tea time in England? Margaritas in Mexico? Let your AAA Travel Agent help you plan your next adventure! Call 800-750-5386 or visit your local AAA office.
(March/April 2017 Traveler)