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Thursday, 6 December 2007

Reminiscing the Serbat Man

While I was foruming in one of the Ipoh threads talking about Glorious Ipoh foodstuff, it triggered my memories of the earliest time I had a cool glass of soda water, or what you commonly bottled soft drinks nowadays that to me is a misnomer as 'soft drinks' are actually all beverages that are non-alcoholic right. Anyway getting back to the topic, a bottle of carbonated drinks those days was actually a luxury, either from the venerable F&N stable of drinks that at that time was Fanta or Coca-Cola, Kickapoo or another brand I cannot remember (Schweppes or Pepsi, I cannot remember which was already around in the 70's). In fact it was such a treat that I remember as a special Ramadhan breakfast table item, my dad used to buy a crate of mix flavoured carbonated drink bottles as a reward for us kids who fasted. And my dad personally also loved mixing ice-cream with a bottle of you guessed it ice-cream soda water, so for you kids who see a bottle of that flavour and wonder who drinks it, that was the purpose for that particular flavour. Anyway there was no 1.5 litre plastic bottles at that time and those bottles and crates were returnable to be recycled. So who said our society did not practise sustainable consumption back then.

Well being a luxury item meant that most times the only time I got to have a soda drink was from the Serbat Man who manned an old style soft-drink fountain in the main bus stop at Hugh Low Street. This was an Indian guy in a hole in the wall shop set up, who only had the fountain and bottles of various syrup flavours in addition to the normal drink items but these were more a sideline, the main stuff was the soda or serbat that could rival the bottled carbonated drinks any day. Actually for a sweet tooth kid like me, I actually preferred his serbat, as he was not stingy with his syrup when mixing it with the water that he aerates in his fountain. Now for you who cannot picture this, think of the soda fountains in the fast food joints that are now actually drinks dispenser or the vending machines that dispense drinks in cups if you can still find them, the process is the same. However the serbat guy has an advantage, in that he can mix up his syrups to come up with an unlimited range of flavours, and my personal favourite was mixing up what he called banana flavour that was green in colour with rose syrup that still came out in a darker shade of green. So everytime we went to town and would wait at that bus stop for the return journey, you can bet that a purchase of the serbat is in the cards. It was that cheap.

Nonetheless the demise of the serbat man was heralded by the arrival of drink dispensers and vending machines that made carbonated drinks more affordable. I also remember that my dad was convinced to buy a home use drink dispenser as an economical means of getting carbonated drinks at home, but I think in the long run the cost of the corn syrups and refilling the carbon tank was not justifiable and it was ultimately abandoned when it broke down. The last time I think I had a drink from the serbat man was in the early 80's, as after that he went out of business when the public tastes changed to pre-mixed drinks rather than having their dope served in a cup. Unlike Coca-cola I guess who started with the same origins in drugstores, the serbat man did not know how to move with the time to prolong the life of his drink mixes. Thank god his banana and rose syrup mix lives on as fruitade flavour in the current brands, think how much royalty he would have got if he had patented that mix at that time long ago.

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