• Shona McCarthy

Betelnut Juice in Taiwan

My 2014 trip to Taiwan is mostly a blur for me. It was arranged by someone in the group I was travelling with and I didn't really understand the itinerary. But one thing I do remember is the betelnut juice incident. The guy who arranged the trip was walking around the Ximending Youth Shopping District (西門町) with me. He turned to me and said, "I have a friend who told me I need to try betelnut juice. He said it's the most delicious juice ever." I knew my friend to be a good eater. So I tended to believe him when he told me a food or drink was good.

We wandered down a street and saw a stand. You have to realise, the whole shopping area in Ximen is always crowded with people. Day and night, it's full of people and you have to line up for everything. But when we found the betelnut stall it was mysteriously mostly empty.

(Image taken by me, Taiwan, 2014.) The weather was warm and slightly humid most of the time I was in Taiwan. It was the kind of weather that exhausts me. Sometimes it makes my panic attacks more frequent. So I was grateful for a cool drink. The betelnut fruit, as you can see in the image above seems to be while and lobulated. Something like an albino bitter melon, but somehow uglier. This fruit was placed into a machine by a man at the stall. It was pulped, then dribbled into a styrofoam cup. Then my friend and I drank of it.

The juice was mostly flavourless. Not sweet at all. Watery, but with overcurrents of something foul, something like bad vegetables. I said to my friend, "Your friend said that this juice was delicious?" "I think we've been pranked." My friend replied. I agreed. When I was researching a little so that I could write this post, I learned that the betelnut exists, but it is an orange nut which is highly addictive, dangerous to the health. The juice comes from chewing it so that it mixes with your saliva. Now that I know this, maybe I'm glad I never found the real thing. With that in mind I did an online search to find out if white bitter melons are actually a thing. Apparently, they are. I wonder if the friend I traveled with that day was playing a prank on me.

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