on… (Makgeolri)막걸리

Posted: 17/03/2012 in Wellbeing
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막걸리, makgeolli or makkoli, is easier to read in hangul than roman. It sounds more like mak go’ li , but I will spell it in whichever way I feel.

People call it a  Korean ‘rice wine’ which I strongly disagree with. Wine is made from grapes or other types of fruit. I would prefer ‘rice beer’ because it is made from grain, the grain in this case being rice and sometimes wheat.  The boiled rice and grain makes the drink look very unlike any beer which is why I might be the only person in the world who calls it rice beer. It usually looks like milk or even milk on the turn. It can be quite sweet but I honestly cannot describe the taste. When you buy it from a shop it is often a little fizzy but I prefer to drink it in a makkoil place.  It is unlike anything else I have tried in terms of alcohol because you drink it from small battered metal containers, the kind you would expect a cat to drink milk from. To add to the sheer quirkiness it is served in huge kettles and when you run out you shake a mini-kettle like a bell to get a refill. One large kettle is shared amongst several people and when you order you get a variety of foods to accompany your makkoly. In a great place you can expect to get fried chicken, grilled fish, savoury pancakes, chili mussels and a feast of other dishes. The more kettles you order the more food you get and the more elaborate the food gets. I think after about 5 kettles you can be served ‘live’ squid. The tentacles are still moving when you eat it, and it’s very difficult to eat, each severed tentacle tries to suck onto your chopsticks. I dislike gassy drinks and bland over chilled lager beer so I was excited to discover this unusual beverage. I do genuinely enjoy the taste but the reason I love makkoli so much  is the highly ritualised nature of the mokkoly experience. Spending most of my life in the various Catholic institutions has given me a deep respect for any ritualised experience, especially with tea and alcohol. The nearest thing I can think of are the tapas places in Southern Spain which give you a small plate of goodies every time you order a drink. I believe alcohol should always been served with food anyway, it’s just more civilized.  Drinking your makkoli with two hands in a down at heels backstreet place seems  primal and authentic. It’s a rustic experience because it comes from rice growing areas and has been popular in the countryside. However, in Jeonju you can find a few places in each neighbourhood. The tourist map labels them as Makgeolri towns, this is a bit much but you can get a few places on the same street which adds to the atmosphere. It goes down a bit too easily even though it’s equivalent to a strong ale (about 6 – 8 % volume). Once you have had a few saucerfuls it can hit like a sack of …rice? It also gets you a different kind of drunk. Drinking the stuff on its own is quite good, in fact there are many supposed health benefits, it’s meal like. However, on the odd occasion when I have drunk other alcohol afterwards it has left me in state or confusion, rustic confusion, like a rice farmer in a corn field.

The thing I miss most from home are the pubs and ales. I don’t really like getting drunk but I do like the taste of real beer. I like the smell of pubs especially in summer, I like the comfortable carpets and well used pool tables, I like sitting doing nothing on a Sunday afternoon, drinking too much after work on a Friday and doing a pub quiz midweek. Bars in other countries never come close to the greatest institution in the world: The pub. The makkoli places give me a weird sense of home even though they are impossibly exotic. The first time I went to a makkoli place I was surprised to see that when you wash your hands in the shabby toilet the water goes down the plug in the sink and then has a clear drop into a bucket on the floor. I was probably drunk at the time but I thought… Wow! No visible plumbing, how honest! They have since fixed that sink but my sentiments stay the same. With a Miller Time and WA bar on every high street selling German and Czech tasteless lager beer with loud music and overpriced bar snacks, I am more than happy to shell out about 7 pounds sterling for a huge kettle of milky goodness. That’s because …

막걸리좋아하는 (I like mackolly)

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