“Mamma Mia!” is an Italian expression that basically means “wow.”
And while you are unlikely to hear Italian spoken along the Bellaire Boulevard corridor of Asian businesses, it has a ‘Mama Mia” — with one less “m” — that offers its own kind of wow.
Sugar is usually in boba tea, bubble tea and milk tea at oh-so-many shops along the boulevard. But at Mama Mia, there’s no hide-and-go-seek games to be played with the star attraction, which in this case is liquid squeezed straight from the green stalk — not some processed, crystallized white powder.
The menu includes iced sugarcane juice straight up, or sugar cane juice with coconut meat, or kumquat, or lemon, or ginger and lime, or similar refreshing natural ingredients.
And guess what? Neatly balanced with a slice of ginger and a slice of lime, my $5 drink was no sweeter than the milky treats served elsewhere. In fact, the cane juice was perfectly balanced with the two other flavors — a different and near-perfect way to satisfy a sweet tooth without risking an overdose.
With the right accent mark, “mia” is the Vietnamese word for “cane.” No Italian involved.
But there’s another secret to this snack stop’s appeal, according to co-owner Mike Nguyen.
The sugarcane squeezed in this store is grown on his family’s farm, he said.
‘If we’re going to take pride in our sugarcane, and we know the people who grew it, it’s going to show in the product,” he said. “Customers say they can taste the difference.”
Nguyen said some drink shops use cane shipped from Florida farms or a frozen version from Vietnam, none overseen by relatives.
So where is the family farm, which is featured on a video screen in the store?
The location, somewhere outside of Texas, is a secret, he said, to protect the exclusivity of the product.
I agreed not to press the question. But I do know that sugarcane is a cash crop in Louisiana, where the ceiling of the state legislature’s chambers are made of Celotex, a by-product of sugarcane harvesting.
The menu of mia drinks includes slushies and optional toppings, too, and a $30 take-home half-gallon of the squeezed juice.
Also on the menu are Vietnamese sandwiches, coffee, freezer pops and brightly colored waffles in four flavors: taro, durian, pandan and a combo. The sandwich and waffle I tried were loaded with flavor, but the drinks are definitely the main attraction in this sleek, brightly colored store, which opened in August 2019.
Nguyen said business ramped up during the pandemic when he offered a price break to customers who work in the healthcare industry. Then word spread.
What’s Nguyen’s plan for when the pandemic recedes and more people go hunting for authentic flavors?
“Open more stores,” he said.
Mama Mia Sugarcane Drinks
11111 Bellaire Blvd.
— By Alan Bernstein