OOhh Korea, the land of morning… hangovers.
When I first arrived in Seoul, I was jetlagged AF and unfortunately kept waking up around 4am for the first week. Unable to get back to sleep, and being in an incredibly safe (and well-lit 24/7) city for the first time ever, I would grab a coffee from a convenience store and go for long walks in the early morning, exploring new places throughout the city.
I was a bit surprised to see how many other people were out and about, either still out at some of the clubs that were still open or stumbling home from a night out drinking. Bright red vomit was easy to find on the sidewalks, the product of kimchi and too much alcohol. Passed out businessmen were found periodically on benches but no one seemed to mind, and they never bothered anyone, not even the curious foreigner who was obviously shocked to find all of this in the early morning.
After I had gotten over my jetlag and settled into my new life and morning routine, I started going out for daily runs or hikes each morning. Blessed to be near both the Han River and a small mountain, I was always happy to begin my days enjoying the outdoors. But changing my routes to be on trails rather than going through the city streets didn’t do much to change the presence of alcohol, even as the sun was barely rising. One particular morning, as I began my hike up the path, I passed a small group of older men. They happily greeted me and waved me over to them. As I approached, I recognized several bottles of alcohol sitting in the middle of their circle. “Soju!” they said, offering me a small paper cup filled with the beverage. It’s 6am! I thought, giggling. I waved and shook my head, declining their offer. They offered again, and as I walked away, thanking them but again saying no, they happily went back to their conversation, laughing and cheering with their drinks.
That morning soju encounter was not exactly the norm for every morning, but the presence of drinking certainly was. And while morning drinking (or staying out that late at a bar) was not something I was used to, I was happy to adapt to going out drinking more often than I probably should have.
I was 29 when I was living in Korea, which was definitely past my prime years of college partying. But in Seoul, that didn’t seem to matter as people way older than me were out constantly, drinking with friends or colleagues. In fact, Hoesik is the practice of eating and drinking (often excessively) with your co-workers as a way to strengthen your bonds with each other. As a foreigner, I wasn’t expected to do this with my boss, but as a young(ish) single woman in a new country with new friends, I certainly wanted to go out and have fun as much as possible.
Soju is a popular distilled liquor from Korea, known for its clear and smooth taste. Made primarily from rice, but also from other grains like barley or wheat, soju has a relatively low alcohol content, typically ranging from 16% to 25% ABV. It has been enjoyed for centuries in Korean culture, often served as a social drink during gatherings and celebrations. Soju’s versatility allows it to be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or as a base for various cocktails. Its mild flavor profile, subtle sweetness, and clean finish make soju a beloved and refreshing choice for those seeking a taste of Korea’s drinking culture.
Maekju (맥주) or Beer in Korea
Korean beers like Cass and Hite are popular choices in Korea’s beer scene. Cass, a light lager, is known for its crisp and refreshing character, making it a go-to option for hot summer days. Hite, another widely consumed beer, is a mild and smooth lager with a clean taste. Both beers are often enjoyed alongside traditional Korean dishes, such as barbecue or fried chicken. While they may not be as bold or complex as craft beers, Cass and Hite offer a light and enjoyable drinking experience that pairs well with the flavors of Korean cuisine.
Craft Beer (수제 맥주)in Korea
The craft beer scene in Korea has flourished in recent years, fueled by a passion for quality and innovation. Breweries like The Booth and Euljiro have played a significant role in shaping this burgeoning industry. The Booth, with its vibrant taprooms and creative beer lineup, has garnered a dedicated following for its diverse range of styles and flavors. Euljiro, located in Seoul’s historic brewing district, embraces traditional brewing techniques while infusing modern twists into their artisanal beers. These breweries, along with many others, have elevated the Korean craft beer scene, offering beer enthusiasts a chance to savor unique brews and experience the dynamic and ever-evolving landscape of craft beer in Korea.
Makgeolli is a traditional Korean rice wine with a rich history dating back centuries. Made from fermented rice, makgeolli is known for its milky-white appearance and slightly sweet and tangy flavor profile. It has a relatively low alcohol content, typically ranging from 6% to 8% ABV. Makgeolli’s smooth and refreshing taste, coupled with its natural effervescence, makes it a popular choice among Koreans, particularly during social gatherings.
Korean Cocktail Bars
Korean Hangover Ice Cream
(From my first submission to Gastro Obscura!)
South Korea has a wide array of hangover-fighting products, ranging from drinks to soups to jellies. But few compare to the Gyeondyo-bar. Every part of the treat promises comfort, from its hot-pink color to its grapefruit-flavored ice cream, to its very name, which roughly translates to the “hang-in-there-bar.”
But the key ingredient in each Gyeondyo-bar lies inside its rosy exterior. The center of each pop contains frozen Hovenia dulcis juice. Also known as the “Oriental raisin tree,” the plant’s juice has a longstanding reputation as a hangover cure in traditional Chinese medicine, dating back to the Tang Dynasty’s Materia Medica. As for modern scientific backing, one study did find that hovenia dulcis juice relieved alcohol withdrawal symptoms in rats, but human studies are lacking.
Withme FS, a South Korean convenience store chain, released the Gyeondyo-bar in 2016. In a press release, the company said they created the sweet treat “to provide comfort to those who have to come to work early after frequent nights of drinking.”