Around the World in 20 Drinks: South Korea
Much like it is round these parts, drinking is an integral part of Korean culture. As soon as the working day is done, salarymen flock to nearby bars in a concerted effort to get hammered and eventually vomit their way down the stairs to a nearby subway station before the last train leaves. In terms of the drinks themselves, leaving aside cheap but pisspoor Korean beers such as Cass, Max or Hite, the country has two popular national drinks.
The most prominent is soju, an unassuming spirit with a taste similar to mild vodka but with the effects of a mild hallucinogenic. Soju doesn't like to let you know that you're drunk until it's five bottles later and you're attempting to walk on water or stop traffic with your mind. A complication for foreigners partaking in soju drinking is remembering the various customs that go with it.
Remembering how to properly hold your glass or how to properly pour your associate’s drink while staying mindful of their age and status in accordance with Korean culture is hard enough. And don't forget the added difficulty of getting steadily drunk, and steadily less capable of pouring a drink anyway, when you're in the middle of an evening with this stuff.
A less potent but still challenging beverage is makgeolli, a rice wine that tastes like a mixture of a passable dry white and some century-old yoghurt. A popular drink for rainy evenings, it is traditionally served from a kettle into some battered-looking old metal bowls that could possibly have been previously used to bludgeon someone in a waking soju nightmare. While more forgiving than soju, it can still be relied upon to provide quite a brutal hangover even if you only drink a few bowls.
And no heavy Korean drinking session would be complete without a variety of anju, snacks that generally only exist to accompany alcohol. The star among these is mallin ojingeo, dried shredded squid with an atrocious smell and a taste to match. Yet it's inexplicably alluring, a culinary experience similar to eating a surprisingly moreish belt.