One Man’s Fizzy Obsession
“Ever since my first soda pop, I’ve been obsessed,” exclaimed 39-year-old Phattaranoppol ‘Shon’ Suwannatat, owner of the Praew Factory Bakery, as I asked him about his impressive cabinet filled with a range of almost-impossible to find soft drinks.
Since he was a young boy, Shon has drunk at least one soda a day. “When I was a teenager and even in my twenties I’d drink like five or six cans a day,” he laughed. “It’s only because I am getting older and need to watch my health that I drink less now, but I think I have probably spent well over 60,000 baht on soda cans so far.”
Like a mad scientist, Shon snuck behind his cabinet and pulled out two cans of root beer. One was the Thai A&W can, the other was Barq’s. “I want you to taste the difference,” he instructed as he cracked open both cans and poured them into two separate glasses.
Lifting up the A&W he explained how, as it is made for the Thai market, it has much more fizz than regular American soda because Thais drink it with so much more ice. “The flavour is certainly root beer but once you try a real root beer, my favourite is Mug, made from real roots and not flavourings, you’ll be blown away. I have never had a chance to go to Philadelphia and drink real fresh rootbeer…maybe one day.”
As a Brit, I was lucky to have tried many sodas unavailable in Thailand during my youth, but I have now all but forgotten them. I took a sip of A&W followed by a sip of Barq’s. The flavours were incomparable. “Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Thai sodas , but you have to think about what chemicals they use and how much sugar there is in it. Americans like their strong flavours that aren’t overly sweet, unlike our Thai palate that loves sugar and fizzy saaaa!”
Excitedly explaining away all the different sodas he had in his cabinet like an over-excited child at Christmas, he pulled out can after can, popping them open and pouring me glass after glass like a soda sommelier. “Try this one, it’s like a beer,” he exclaimed, adding that he had so far tried over 200 types of sodas.
The can of Karamalz (a German malt soda) popped open and slowly glugged out its contents into a glass, forming a head that many beer companies would be jealous of. “It’s really hard to get German sodas, they don’t like to export them. This one is like a beer, but sweet and non-alcoholic of course.”
I passed the glass to our photographer who did a double take, unsure if we were pulling his leg and had just served him up a real can of dark German beer.
Finally a Dr. Pepper was opened and I sat there grinning as I remembered how much I loved it as a child. “When you drink soda you instantly go back to the first time you tried it. You remember your childhood, and I love that.” It was like he read my mind.
When Shon was old enough to work he took a job at the local mall so he could access even more soda. “When started at The Mall, I always asked to add another box of foreign sodas to the order so I could take them home myself.” For 20 years, he has continued to use The Mall as his vendor, and although now working on his own business, he still uses his relationship with The Mall to keep buying his beloved pops.
Now Shon and his wife own and manage the Praew Factory Bakery, where they have begun selling these cans to those in Chiang Mai who are equally enthusiastic about foreign soda pop. “Once I get an order in, say Irn Bru, and I publish that on our Facebook, we get orders for the entire lot within a day. Sometimes people just call and say ‘give me every can you got!’”
“There is no problem ordering through The Mall and it is all legal,” he said. “The problem is that more often than not they get caught at customs and are heavily taxed. If a regular branded soda is imported, it is taxed at 7.6% but if it is an ‘unrecognised’ brand they slap a 200% taxation on it instead.”
Reading between the lines, it was clear that the concept of a free market was, unsurprisingly, not yet a reality here. “Ginger Beer also has the worst problems, as the excise department are convinced that it is alcoholic. I often have to tell them to open a can and drink it so they believe me!”
As we were leaving, he pointed to a can of Rubicon Lychee Soda. “The lychees in this are farmed in Fang! The A++ grade lychees are sent to England while we eat A and B grade lychees here,” he laughed. “It’s pretty crazy! If only we were allowed to enjoy them here as well…maybe one day things will change.”
If you would like to relive your childhood with the taste of a soda from home, why not go and see what Shon’s got in stock! Just pay a visit to Praew Bakery Factory or visit their Facebook page.
220 Moo 3, Soi Kasalong 1, Chiang Mai-Doi Saket Road, Sansai
086 192 0879
Facebook: Praew Factory