It sounds like I’ve been back in Tokyo all this while, but I haven’t. After recuperating for a few days I hopped on a flight to Seoul with Jenny Sandwich, both of us there to crash at Graceful’s place for a week. Eating and no small amount of shopping ensued. So did, much to my surprised delight, quite a bit of drinking.
If you know me, you’ll know that I rarely drink alcohol – beer is anathema, sake is incomprehensible, wine is at best quite nice and usually chucked in a pan for pasta. And I get a full on Azn Glow after the merest couple of sips. But I’ve found my drink at last – makgeolli.
Makgeolli! My beloved makgeolli, my darling, the thing I could drink until my liver shuts down. (Or not.) ‘Korean rice wine’, perhaps, gives you an idea of what it is. Cheap bottles at every convenience store – the above cost around 1400won (about 140yen) – it’s a peasant drink apparently “undergoing a hipster revival“.
What does it actually taste like? To my untrained palate, fizzy and not particularly alcoholic, a little like light amazake without the sweetness and more bubbles. It goes down easily, with alternating bites of freshly-made gat kimchi (courtesy of Mama Graceful, who is a stunning cook), or bossam, or lots of other delicious nibbles. I drank two to three small cups every night, which is no small feat given that I’ve spent 99.9999999% of my years on this planet completely sober. I’ve never even been so drunk as to puke my guts out. (Yes, I am indeed a college student.)
Jenny Sandwich, best friend and veteran imbiber of booze, has informed me that you Absolutely Cannot get good makgeolli here in Japan – at least, not if you buy the legally imported stuff in cans. According to Graceful, the pasteurisation process (or something like that) kills all the fermenting things that make it tasty.
So, much like my – perhaps childish – pledge years ago to only eat pho in Vietnam (or only if it was guaranteed to be bloody good), I vowed to have makgeolli only in Korea. Which resulted in, of course, several cups every night until I was tipsy enough to shuffle-dance across the living room and make really terrible puns, even more than usual. This is what I’ll remember of Seoul when I look back wistfully through the photos: a permanent sleepover with two of my best friends, almost-nightly dinners and an indoor picnic with Graceful’s family, jokes, puns, ruining movies, everything washed down with a cup of makgeolli. Good golly, makgeolli.
P.S. By the time you read this, I’ll be in Kansai with a camera/spoon glued to my face. Watch this space.