This week’s Friday Food is actually a Friday Drink! Makgeolli (막걸리) is Korea’s oldest liquor. It was the most popular alcohol in South Korea, especially for farmers and the working class as not only a tasty alcohol but as a substantial food substitute during hard economic crises, until 1988. It went “out of style” for a couple decades as it became unfashionable to drink “nongju” (농주) or “farmer’s alcohol” but has made a comeback in the last ten years not only among citizens of every age and gender but also in mainstream media. I honestly found out about makgeolli a few days ago while watching the 2013/2014 drama “Let’s Eat” where it was paired with a delicious tofu meal.
It is a milky-white and semi-sweet liquor made from fermented rice, yeast, and water, with a “starter culture” called nuruk, which through the fermentation process, makes the liquor slightly fizzy! It contains a relatively small alcohol percentage of 6-8 and contains a bundle of vitamins and lactic acid bacteria. So not only will it not get you uncomfortably intoxicated, it is also actually good for your stomach health. You can find makgeolli in pretty much every restaurant in South Korea as well as almost any market or convenience store that sells liquor (so basically everywhere!)
It’s traditionally served in a large metal or wooden bowl and ladled into smaller bowls; when I saw it in “Let’s Eat,” it was, in fact, ladled into smaller gold metal bowls. In stores it is usually sold in plastic bottles and can be bought for about 1$ (0.77£ or 1118₩) in varying sizes and prices, of course, and is one of the cheapest and most common liquors you can buy.
It’s usually shaken up before consumption because the milky portion settles at the bottom; the thin, clear, yellowish liquid on top called Cheong-Ju (rice wine) was used more by royalty and is still used during certain ancestral rites in Korea.
If you want, here are some of the great articles I took a look at. One of them being about one of the only places in the US that serves it, and another about the drink’s past and present as well as one of the people who played a pivotal role in makgeolli’s comeback in Korea. So far I can’t find anywhere in the UK the serves the drink, but you can probably hunt it down in an Asian marketplace or at least find it online here!
Here’s a video by the ever-wonderful Maangchi on how to make your own makgeolli!
I know that quite a few readers here on UKP aren’t old enough to drink, but I hope that makgeolli will make it onto your “definitely try” list for when you hit legal drinking age. I, for one, hope that it branches into the European and American markets faster than expected because I would love to try this tasty, healthy rice liquor!