South Korea // Food and drink //

Get drunk the local way

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Though Koreans largely favour beer and imported drinks, the country has more than a few superb local hooches, many of which go down very well indeed with foreigners.

Baekseju

(백세주) A nutty, whisky-coloured concoction, about the same strength as wine. Its name means “one-hundred-year alcohol”, on account of healthy ingredients including ginseng and medicinal herbs. Surely the tastiest path towards becoming a centenarian, baekseju is available at convenience stores and many barbecue houses.

Bokbunjaju

(복분자주) Made with black raspberries, this sweet, fruity drink is similar to sugary, low-grade port. Available at all convenience stores, though if you’re on a mountain hike in late summer you may be lucky enough to try some freshly made: it’s sold by farmers at makeshift stalls.

Dongdongju

(동동주) Very similar to makkeolli, dongdongju is a little heavier taste-wise, and since it can only be served fresh you’ll have to head to a specialist place for a try. The restaurants most likely to have dongdongju are those also serving savoury pancakes known as pajeon. A word of warning: many foreigners have been floored by this deceptively quaffable drink.

Maehwasu

(매화수) Similar to baekseju in colour, strength and price, this is made with the blossom of the maesil, a type of Korean plum, and some bottles come with said fruit steeping inside.

Makkeolli

(막걸리) Usually around 8 percent alcohol by volume, this milky rice wine was seen as granddad fuel for years, but a recent shift back towards Korean tradition has seen its popularity go through the roof. The stuff is now sold in upscale bars, and preliminary attempts have been made towards its marketing abroad. Interestingly, although it’s the most expensive of Korea’s alcohols to make, it’s actually the cheapest to buy, since its centuries-old heritage has afforded it tax-exempt status.

Soju

(소주) The national drink, for better or worse. Locals refer to it as “Korean vodka”, but it’s only half the strength – a good thing too, as it’s usually fired down in staccato shots over barbecued meat. It’s traditionally made with sweet potato, but these days most companies go for cheaper, chemical concoctions: the resultant taste puts many foreigners off.

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