1. Bokbunja ju (복분자주)
Bokbunja, is a blackberry native to the Korea Peninsula. The wine is the color of oxblood, and its sweet, berry flavor is reminiscent more of dessert wine than a red wine.
The drink has traditionally been associated with male virility, and it wasn’t until 2008 that a team of South Korean scientists confirmed that the berry increased testosterone levels and sperm counts in mice. Talk about an aphrodisiac.
2. Banana Milk (바나나우유)
For many Koreans, banana milk conjures up memories of childhood. And if you try it, you’ll understand why: it’s simple, sugary — and totally addictive.
The most popular brand, Binggrae, has cultivated a loyal following since it hit the shelves in 1974, a time when bananas were a luxury food.
3. Soju (소주)
As the ubiquity of these glittering green bottles in virtually every eating and drinking establishment should tell you: soju is Korea’s national liquor. For a nation of lushes, soju provides a cheap and effective way to get hammered.
The two major soju brands that dominate the Seoul market are Chamisul (참이슬) and Chum Churum (처음 처럼). The taste resembles that of slightly sweet, watered-down vodka — sort of like sugar dissolved in rubbing alcohol.
But don’t judge soju solely by those brands. Regional brands outside Seoul offer interesting, and even delicious sojus. Andong soju, despite its higher alcohol content, is hand-crafted and has a clean, subtle character that is more akin to sake than other sojus.
4. Omija tea (오미자차)
Omija means “five-flavor berry” because you can supposedly taste five flavors — sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy — in the berry. In Korea, the berry is normally turned into a tea that can be consumed by itself or mixed with honey, flower petals, mung bean powder, and other things to create a variety of different Korean punches called hwachae (화채).
Omija is also used as a flavoring for makgeolli. For everyday use, the tea is supposed to be good for colds or other respiratory illnesses, but in terms of traditional medicine, omija is supposed to restore your liver.
5. Makgeolli (막걸리)
Makgeolli is the oldest alcohol in Korea. Unlike soju or other clear alcohols, it is unfiltered, giving a milky white color with some sediment at the bottom. It is sweet and smooth, with a little tang and the right amount of carbonation to make it refreshing.
Recently makgeolli has made a comeback with younger generations as a fruit cocktail, a drink made with Chilsung Cider (Korea’s version of Sprite), and other incarnations. Makgeolli is best though, when it is made by hand from pure ingredients — meaning, rice. Enjoy it with pajeon (파전) a savory pancake or bindaetteok (빈대떡), a mung bean pancake.
Wolhyang (월향) in Hongdae makes its own organic brown rice makgeoli that stands at 15% alcohol, but tastes better than the cheap stuff.
To be continued…
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