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Perfect Drinking Snacks for Traditional Korean Alcoholic Beverages
Date 04-05-2019 14:22
Perfect Drinking Snacks for Traditional Korean Alcoholic Beverages

If you think that makgeolli and soju are the only Korean alcoholic beverages there are, you must a beginner when it comes to Korean drinks. Korea boasts a great variety of liquors, liqueurs, and wines throughout the different regions. And just as wines and beers of the West have their suited drinking snacks, such as cheeses and potato chips, so there are perfect traditional drinking snacks, known as anju, for different traditional Korean alcohol. Anju is not just some run-of-the-mill drinking snack. Proper anju is crucial to bringing out the best aroma and flavors of Korean drinks.

Matches Made in Heaven

Just as different monasteries throughout medieval Europe made beers according to their unique and traditional recipes, Korean households have for centuries made unique liquors and wines according to inherited recipes. The tradition of alcohol-making in Korea, which began in the Three Kingdoms period, reached its peak in the Joseon period. By the late Joseon period, there were well over 1,000 traditional wines and liquors made in Korea, including hundreds that were homemade. Over 300 of these wines and liquors enjoyed nationwide renown and popularity.
The world of anju is just as diverse and rich as the world of liquors and wines in Korea. Anju served to mitigate the harsh effect of alcoholic drinks and protect the drinker’s internal system. Koreans almost never get drank alcohol without the accompanying anju. Anju is not just any food one eats while drinking, but is a specific type of food that forms a perfect marriage with the given drink. Ideally, anju should be made with the ingredients unique to and grown in the region where the given liquor or wine originates from. But anju can be made with any ingredients sourced from anywhere insofar as its taste profile and nutritional value matches the given drink.
Makgeolli, by far the most globally famous of all traditional Korean alcoholic beverages, is made by leavening steamed rice for fermentation. This rice wine, with a yogurt-like color, boasts a strong flavor and aroma. Fusion makgeolli, which has fruits mixed in for sweeter flavors and/or whose alcohol content has been reduced, is popular throughout Korea.
Recommended drinking snacks for makgeolli are foods that are not too wet and that contain a bit of oil to wash down the rough texture and flavor of the rice wine. Examples include jeon (pancakes and other pan-fried foods), kimchi, and suyuk (meat boiled in seasoned water). Makgeolli with pajeon (Korean scallion pancake) is an accepted formula throughout Korea. Of course, anju for makgeolli need not be traditional only. Potato pancakes with mozzarella and tteokppokki(spicy rice cakes) with soy-marinated beef strips are just as perfect.

Enhancing, and Not Counting, the Inherent Aromas and Flavors of Drinks

Cheongju is the name for filtered Korean wines obtained by filtering makgeolli repeatedly until it comes out clear. This richly aromatic and relatively difficult-to-produce wine was popular among the nobility and the learned in the past. In order to enjoy the complex and rich aroma and flavor of cheongju, it is important to drink it with anju that is not too strong in flavor. Famous examples of cheongju, the filtered wines, include Gyodong Beopju, which an old family has been making for over three centuries since the Joseon era, and the Hansan Sogokju, nicknamed “the crippling wine” for its rich aroma and flavor that have a “crippling” effect, figuratively speaking, on drinkers. Sayeonji, a unique kimchi boasting a refined taste profile and made by Head House of the Choe Clan that makes the Gyodong Beopju, is by far the best anju for that wine. Gujeolpan, yukpo, eopo, oiseon, naengchae, and other such dishes that are not too heavy and too strong in flavors are also great with cheongju.
Soju refers to liquors obtained by boiling makgeolli in large cast-iron pots and distilling it. Traditional soju differs significantly, in both flavor and aroma, from the diluted soju we commonly drink today. Andong Soju, Jindo Hongju, Munbaeju, and Igangju are the four most renowned traditional types of soju in Korea. The Munbaeju was even featured at the banquet following the Inter-Korean Summit of 2018. This soju, dating back over a millennium to the times of King Taejo Wang Geon, the founder of the Goryeo Dynasty, has a peary aroma, even though not a bit of pear is used in its making.
Traditional soju may have a higher alcohol content than wines, but they produce much less of a hangover. Foods rich in fat and protein, including jjigae made with pork, raw beef tartare, and stewed chicken, are recommended as accompaniments to soju so as to protect the drinker’s stomach.