World's Strangest Movie Theater Snacks
Art collector Odetta Medich left her home country of Lithuania to live in Sydney, but she still remembers fondly the unusual snacks and beverages she enjoyed at the movies in the onetime Soviet territory—especially a traditional beerlike drink called kvas. “We used to buy it outside the cinema from a lady dressed in a white doctor’s coat, serving it from a large rusting cylinder drum with a little tap at the side,” she recalls.
Americans may not drink much beer at the movies like the Lithuanians—at least, legally—but snacking is, undeniably, a central part of cinema-going in the United States, as well as abroad. And while popcorn may be popular in movie theaters worldwide, there are still traditionalist holdouts in every country, where unusual local treats are still offered at the concession counter.
“You have to order something to eat—it’s a required part of the movie experience,” says Charles Runnette, editorial director of entertainment hub Movieline.com (and occasional T+L contributor).
For travelers, a trip to a subtitled movie in a foreign land is a great way to soak up some culture—and get a taste of what the locals like to munch on while taking in the country’s latest action, comedy, or chick flick. Palates vary widely across the globe, so movie snacking is bound to be an adventure.
In Japan, for example, a country that practically invented quirky comestibles, the movie snacks of choice are baked fish skeletons coated with soy and sugar. South Koreans adore fishy snacks as well, but they also go mad for roasted chestnuts. And in Moscow, VIP theater patrons indulge in—what else—beluga caviar.
And don’t be surprised to see strange cinema snacks in U.S. theaters too. Concessions are of course big business here; the country’s largest movie theater chain, Regal, sold almost $860 million worth of food and drinks in 2009—about 27 percent of its revenue. And to increase sales, Regal is experimenting with new offerings, many of which are sure to shock the popcorn, Milk Duds, and Coke crowd. Egg rolls, beef jerky, and even frozen soft drinks with sour apple, wild cherry, and blue raspberry–flavored syrups are just a few new and unusual items currently being tested in local markets.
Check out our list of the world’s strangest movie snacks—and leave the Junior Mints for later.
Spain: Red Wine & Coca-Cola Cocktail
No wonder Almodovar’s movies are so off-kilter and outré—perhaps he guzzles Kalimotxo as enthusiastically as his homegrown audience. Locals, especially those from the Basque country where it was first invented, often sneak this cocktail into movie theaters, having made it at home. The recipe is simple: 50 percent robust red wine and 50 percent cola.
Netherlands: Salty Licorice
The Dutch have the highest per capita licorice consumption in the world—almost four pounds each. And most of that’s likely chewed through at the movies, where drop (that’s the alternate name for Dutch licorice) is a concession staple. The big difference from its stateside cousin? It’s usually salty, with an herbal, palate-cleansing kick.
South Korea: Roasted Chestnuts
Chestnuts aren’t just a snack for the holidays here—year round, they’re eaten as bite-size nibbles at the movies. Roasted, dried, then put in a sealed foil bag, chestnuts are this country’s answer to Junior Mints, only a whole lot healthier.
Japan: Tiny Baked Fish
In a country where quirky candy’s the norm, nibbling on these snacks at the movies still seems bizarre: tiny fish (including their skeletons) baked in soy and sugar, a crunchy snack known as iwashi sembei that has Japan’s notorious sweet-savory umami flavor.
Thailand: Tom Yum Popcorn
Tom yum is Thailand’s answer to hamburgers or French fries—a popular staple eaten everywhere by anyone. A kicky, fragrant soup made with lemongrass, Kaffir lime, fish sauce, and citrusy galangal, tom yum is a whole lot healthier than its American counterpart. And it’s such a mainstream Thai treat that movie theaters there have devised tom yum–flavored seasoning to sub in for salt on fresh-made popcorn.
Israel: Falafel-Flavored Chips
Bissli’s a wheaty snack, akin to fried pasta, that Israelis gobble like Pringles. One of the most popular versions is falafel (yes, that’s chickpea-flavored wheat—no word on why they didn’t just use chickpeas in the first place).
Russia: Beluga Caviar
Muscovites’ love of the good life extends even to their grazing at the movies: the amped-up amenities in Russia’s largest city now include caviar, dished out by waitstaff in lavish doses to those who pay for seats in the new VIP areas of local cinemas.
India: Cheese & Chutney Sandwiches
Bollywood scriptwriter Advaita Kala, who’s just penned the next star vehicle for Priyanka Chopra (India’s answer to Julia Roberts), reminisces fondly about the snacks she gorged on when a child. “Greasy wafers in transparent, sealed plastic bags, peanuts, and samosas,” she swoons, though at least one staple was a nod to the onetime British rule of her country: “Chutney and cheese sandwiches.”
Barbados: Fish Balls and Banks Beer
Kick back at an open-air screening or in a movie theater Bajan-style by ordering the local answer to nachos: some salty deep-fried fish balls made from fresh-caught flying fish. And forget a drink—in Barbados, it’s washed down with a bottle of the local tipple, thirst-quenching Banks beer.
America: Potato Chips & Blue Cheese Fondue
Wear a bib next time you hit the swanky new movie chain Gold Class Cinemas—it’s like the business-class cabin of an aircraft, albeit with an extra-large screen. Besides reclining chairs, there’s a full waiter-service menu, including Kobe sliders, duck tacos, and even a basket of chips served with a gooey blue cheese fondue for dipping.
Made from fermented cubes of stale black or rye bread, this fermented beverage dates back to antiquity (the traditional drink transcended the classes and was consumed by both peasants and nobles alike). Made by pouring hot water over bread baked into croutons, which are then left to ferment in wooden tubs, the concoction is frequently flavored with mint, berries, or raisins.