Photographs by Shimin Wong
So, I had a theory. It was a very good theory, except it was ruthlessly and unscientifically disproved by a quick phone call to my grandparents. Not that it was a very precise notion to begin with.
I had decided, against all the collective wisdom that is Wikipedia, that lemonade did not, indeed, originate in seventeenth-century Paris, but that it had been imported from the Old World—the “warm temperate to tropical regions” where native sugarcane thrives—namely Asia and Africa.
You see, if lemonade consists of sugar (made from dehydrated sugarcane juice), water (to rehydrate the resulting sugar crystals), and lemon juice, then wouldn’t sugarcane juice with lemon be one evolutionary generation younger?
Living in tropical Singapore, where every hawker center and night market features the cool, mild, and pleasantly grassy nectar of fresh, crushed-before-your-very-eyes sugarcane stalks, it’s hard to imagine that the lemon slice bobbing cheerily atop—a sight so familiar to locals—is a foreign interloper.
Except, when I asked my por por, or grandma, if she had grown up slurping this refreshing, sweet-tart concoction, she responded with a “Nope, sugarcane juice with lemon is a newfangled thing that you young people like. I’ve always preferred the original.”
So there you have it, folks: the crash and burn of my “grand theory." Which doesn’t detract from how good sugarcane juice with lemon is, though. And I mean “upturn your pockets for change and sell the shirt off your very back if need be, so as to have an ice-cold glass on a sizzling-ly hot and muggy day” good. The even-better-than-good news? I’ve actually spied these pulverizing machines (some even hand-cranked) in Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S.