This is the 60th in a series of articles highlighting tourism spots in Seoul. The guide for planning weekend trips in the capital city will help readers rediscover Seoul. - Ed.
By Yeonmi Kim
Fashion designer Doii Lee enjoys the dinner appointments she has with her foreign friends. This is because there is an alcoholic drink she can introduce as one traditional to Korea since makgeolli became famous worldwide. It was difficult to explain to foreign friends about traditional wines before makgeolli became well- known. Now, it is easy to take them to makgeolli restaurants, and enjoy a traditional tipple.
Doii Lee invited Jasmine, Maurizio, Lachlan and David, who are all admirers of makgeolli, to a restaurant called "Muimui" close to her office in Sinsa-dong Garosu-gil.
"When you think of a makgeolli house, it is usually an old pub with makgeolli filled in a yellow kettle, but nowadays there are many atmospheric makgeolli houses. Also, it is good to see how makgeolli comes in a variety of containers, such as glass bottles."
Lee thinks that makgeolli houses are providing a different atmosphere to suit their customers, which now include a lot of female makgeolli fans.
Lachlan showed interest in Muimui`s interior before sitting down. The first floor is a cafe and the second floor is a terrace pocha. They sell makgeolli on the second floor, but only for this day, there were seats available at the group table located in the cafe on the first floor.
The only makgeolli sold at Muimui is rice makgeolli. It is made in a traditional method by using old liquor pots in North Gyeongsang Province. Every day, the ladies who make the makgeolli have it taken by refrigerated truck and delivered to customers.
As everyone exchanges greetings, a glass jug of rice makgeolli and tasty kimchi came out. There was a bamboo stick in the glass jug to stir the makgeolli. Jasmine began to stir with a practiced hand.
"Makgeolli tastes best when you stir it," she explained.
Lachlan and David also stirred makgeolli each time they poured it in the cups. These days, young people don`t stir the cloudy white portion at the bottom before drinking - they prefer to drink the clear makgeolli. However, makgeolli tastes best when you stir the cloudy white portion into the rest of the drink. Even makgeolli in individual cups tastes better when you stir the cloudy portion in with a chopstick.
Makgeolli is made from fermenting steamed rice flour, glutinous rice and flour by adding yeast and water. The main ingredient of makgeolli is 80 percent water, 6-7 percent alcohol, 2 percent protein, 0.8 percent carbohydrates and 0.1 percent fat; the rest contains fiber, vitamin B and C, lactic acid and yeast.
Makgeolli gets its name from the fact that it requires no processes like distillation after fermentation. There are other names besides makgeolli, such as "takju" and "nongju," which means "farmer`s liquor," so called because people usually drank it when farming.
Lachlan asks how strong makgeolli is while pouring. The waiter tells him it is 6 percent alcohol by volume.
"Makgeolli`s alcohol by volume is higher than beer, but about three times lower than soju. You can get full if you drink too much, but it`s a great drink to enjoy at parties."
Nokdu jeon (mung-bean pancake) and pork belly steak salad are great side dishes for makgeolli. Pajeon (spring-onion pancake) is another good side dish for makgeolli, but it goes well with other dishes too.
Jasmine who has lived in Korea for over four years likes Korean food so much that she has learnt to make her own soybean paste stew. She said makgeolli goes well with kimchi stew and soybean paste stew as well.
"Makgeolli seems to go well with all food. It tastes good with kimchi stew. When you drink it, the gas gives out refreshing taste that works well as an alcohol before meals."
As soon as Jasmine finished speaking, Lachlan added that it was best to drink after exercising. Lachlan has been coming to Korea regularly for the past five years, and has been staying in Korea for the last year-and-a-half because of work.
"I have lots of opportunity to drink makgeolli with my Korean friends. I usually drink them after going hiking. The refreshing taste is perfect when I am thirsty."
There is a unique refreshing side to the taste of makgeolli. Jasmine, Maurizio, Lachlan and David all said that the refreshing taste of makgeolli appealed to them. This is because of its unique taste and the subtle fizz provided by the carbonic acid formed during the fermentation process.
Makgeolli on rainy days
They all said they enjoyed makgeolli the most when it rains.
"My friends here today are more Korean than foreigners. Most of the foreigners who come to Korea learn to drink from their Korean friends. That is probably why they enjoy drinking makgeolli on rainy days more than other days. Emotionally, we have a tendency to crave makgeolli when it rains. It tastes much better and the oil from the pajeon smells great," said Lee.
David who came from Israel said he liked makgeolli because of the family-like atmosphere found in the Korean drinking culture.
"Korean drinking culture is very family-like, unlike in Israel. I`ve been here in Korea for three years now, and the one thing that changed is that I drink alcohol like Koreans with my foreign friends, even when there aren`t any Korean friends present," he explained. "We fill each other`s cups when they are empty and make sure there are enough side dishes. This sort of drinking culture is difficult to find in Israel."
Maurizio added to David`s comment.
"We think it is impolite to come to drinking parties when it`s late, but in Korea, people welcome the latecomer and make room for that person. Koreans really enjoy the atmosphere of drinking together," he said
After around six cups of makgeolli has gone around, the atmosphere has risen and cheeks have become a little red.
Lachlan said he could drink up to seven bottles of soju, David was three bottles of soju, Jasmin was two bottles of lemon soju, and Maurizio kidded that the night was too short to find the extent of his drinking capacity. Everyone answered how much they could drink in terms of soju, even though they had been talking about makgeolli until now. In future, perhaps makgeolli will be mentioned more often.
As it gets late, Lachlan proposed a toast to end the gathering, and everyone happily emptied their last cup. The small makgeolli party ended with everyone wishing each other a happy 2010.
l Menu: Rice makgeolli 900 ml 10,000 won, nokdu jeon 15,000 won, pork belly steak salad 25,000 won
l Business hours: Cafe 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
Terrace pocha 6 p.m.-2 a.m.
l Location: Go down the alley next to Cine City, and turn right at the Mini Stop.
l Inquiries: 02-515-3981~2
Baesangmyun Brewery is a franchise pub. You can drink raw rice wine called "Saeng Makgeolli Daepo" at Baesangmyun Brewery. Unlike most makgeolli, which is made from hard boiled rice, saeng makgeolli daepo is made by fermenting raw rice. Since it uses raw rice, the acetaldehyde decreases by more than 10 times to give a cleaner taste. Additionally, there is no heat treatment involved, adding to the clean taste. If you order Baesangmyun dinner special set or side dishes, you are provided with unlimited regular alcohol (Sansachun, Heukmeeju, Cheondae hongju, Hwalin 18 pum and Baekhaju).
l Menu: Saeng makgeolli 1 liter 13,000 won, Lunch special set 19,000 won, Baesangmyun dinner special set 32,000 won
l Business hours: 11:30 a.m. 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m. 11 p.m.
l Location: In the basement the Finance Center next to the Korea Press Center in Gwanghwamun
l Inquiries: 02 773 3238 www.soolsool.co.kr
A pub operated directly by Kooksoondang Brewery. You can taste the thickest type of makgeolli, "ihwaju," at Bekseju Village. Ihwaju was the high quality makgeolli available only for noblemen during the Goryeo era, and leaves a trace of rice powder around the lips. A cup of ihwaju shouldn`t be drained all at once, but tasted one sip at a time. It is made from steamed white rice cake, which is why there are only small amounts available and is difficult to mass produce. It is best to make phone inquiries before you visit. Haemul sujebi spicy soup and tofu kimchi are great side dishes for ihwaju. Also, saeng makgeolli is recommended if you prefer a more refreshing taste, and rice makgeolli if you like a clean and smooth taste.
l Menu: Ihwaju 300 ml 24,000 won, Saeng makgeolli 750ml 4,000 won, Rice makgeolli 960 ml 6,000 won, Roasted bossam with sauce (standard) 18,200 won, Hae mul pajeon 10,000 won, Tangpyung che Cheongpo muk 13,000 won
l Business hours: 5 p.m. 1 a.m.
l Location: Go out of Exit 4 of Jonggak Station on subway Line 1. Bekseju Village is behind the Bosingak Belfry.
l Inquiries: Bekseju Village Jongno Branch 02 720 0055 www.ksdb.co.kr
"Chamsari takju", which is made by Jang Seok pil, the official Korean master of traditional wines, is the only alcohol sold. It is a makgeolli made of environmentally friendly Korean rice. Chamsari takju`s alcohol by volume is 5 percent. You can drink it pure, or drink it as fruit makgeolli. There are over 20 different fruit makgeollis, including peach, grape, pineapple, strawberry, kiwi, citron, Korean raspberry and pomegranate, which you can choose from. Korean raspberry, strawberry and pomegranate makgeolli are popular with Japanese women. It is good to drink with Korean style seafood pancakes, cheese potato pancakes, and Sichuan style chicken vegetable stew.
l Menu: Liquor by the cup 4,000 won, 1/2 bottle 5,000 won, one bottle 9,000 won, Garlic mushroom and tteokgalbi gui 17,000 won, cheese potato pancake 12,000 won, seafood pancake 12,000 won, Sichuan style chicken and vegetable stew 15,000 won
l Business hours: 4 p.m. 4 a.m.
l Location: Between Sinchon subway and railway stations, opposite Nolita Italian restaurant.
l Inquiries: 02 323 8820 www.dduktak.com
How to choose makgeolli in a plastic bottle at the mart
It is similar to choosing fruit. The plastic bottle should feel strong when you touch it. When you choose a watermelon, you look for the ones that sound ripe by tapping on it; the mature makgeolli gives out a clear sound when you tap on the plastic bottle.