염통 – Barbecued chicken hearts

Continuing my Korean culinary adventure, last night’s delicacy was grilled chicken hearts (염통). They were cooked in a sweet, sticky BBQ marinade and served on skewers. For a bargain price of 5,000 KRW (£2.75) we got five skewers, each with four hearts. We also had mushrooms wrapped in samgyeopsal (thick cut bacon), boneless chicken feet, deok (Korean rice cake) and dalkgalbi with melted cheese (stir fried chicken in a mouth-scorchingly spicy sauce).

Nom nom nom

Once I managed to get the image of Chicken Licken out of my head they were surprisingly quite good, a bit like really dark chicken meat. However, as with most of these things they did need quite a lot of chewing, washed down with a mouthful of Cass.

As my friend told me, eating the heart of your enemy makes you grow stronger. In that case, bring it on chickens…

Not looking too convinced at this point…

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Korean drinking etiquette

Well, it’s Sunday afternoon and I am unfortunately suffering from a soju-induced 숙취 (hangover). After going out with some of our Korean friends last night now seems like the right time to climb out from under the duvet, stop watching K-dramas, let go of the water bottle, and write about Korean drinking etiquette.

Everyone knows that Koreans are fond of a drink or two at the end of a long, hard day at work. What is easy to forget however, is that the same social hierarchy rules still apply even when you’re all pie-eyed, holding each other up, and swaying unsteadily to Hey Jude in a norebang at 5am. As a foreigner you will of course be forgiven for not knowing all the rules, but if you do try and follow them you will earn major brownie points!

  • Never pour your own drink. Likewise, never let anyone else pour their own drink. Let them pour for you and then when their glass is empty (and not before!) you can return the favour. According to an old wives tale, if you leave someone with an empty glass for too long you curse them with an unhappy marriage…no pressure then.
  • There are three (yes, really) ways to hold the bottle when you pour. Firstly, if you’re pouring for your boss or an elder, you should hold it with both hands. For someone who is of a similar status as you, you can hold the bottle with your right hand and support your forearm with your left hand. Lastly, you can hold the bottle just with your right hand if it’s someone younger than you or a very close friend. The same rules apply for holding your glass when someone is pouring for you, and pretty much whenever you give or receive something in Korea.
  • Never decline a drink from the first round, you’ll ruin the atmosphere for everyone else. Drinking is a very important way of socialising here, so if you turn down a drink you might be seen as unsociable.
  • If you are drinking with your boss or someone of a higher social rank than you, it is polite to either turn your back or put your hand up to cover your glass while taking a drink. This stems from the idea that young people shouldn’t drink, but even when you’re ‘allowed’ you should still be discreet.
  • You can drink anytime, any place. Seriously. There are no laws against public drinking like we have in England. Similarly, drinking yourself into a stupor is not a weekend activity here, it happens every night of the week.
  • And the golden rule; the events of that night are never to be discussed the next morning. In fact, the only evidence of the evening’s frivolities are the delightfully named ‘kimchi flowers’, left splattered all over the pavement.

Holding the bottle and glass with two hands

Soju, maekju and makgeolli – Drinking in Korea

Drinking, and drinking heavily, is a big part of Korean culture, and it definitely ties in with their ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra. It is not uncommon to go for dinner on a week night and at the next table see a middle aged businessman face down surrounded by empty green soju bottles, while his colleagues are in a similar state of inebriation laughing manically and slapping each other on the back.

The three most popular drinks in Korea are soju, maekju, and makgeolli although expensive whiskeys are becoming increasingly popular these days.

Soju is like Japanese sake, or a slightly sweeter, more watery vodka (or paint stripper!), and is drank in vast quantities. You can buy a bottle of soju in the shops for around ₩1000 (60p/1$), and is only slightly more expensive in bars. Apparently Koreans drink so much of the stuff that the most well known soju brand, Jinro, is in fact the top selling brand of spirits worldwide. Pretty impressive for a population of 49 million.

Maekju is the Korean word for beer and it’s served pretty much anywhere. Well known Western beers are easy to come across, but are considerably more expensive than Korean brands like Cass, Hite and Max. I was never a big fan of beer at home and much prefer beer here, but the general consensus among foreigners is that it is fizzier and weaker tasting than Western beers.

Makgeolli (literally ‘farmer’s alcohol’) is a much more traditional drink, is an unstrained, milky spirit made from rice and barley. It has a much lower alcohol content than soju, around 6 or 7%, and comes in various different flavours.

건배! Cheers!