Sometimes you have to forget you’re only a few miles away from proud UNESCO World Heritage Sites and throw caution to the wind as you enjoy a night (or two) with your fellow backpackers. This is precisely what I did during my most recent trip to Seoul as, instead of hitting a nightclub, a group of us kicked back in Hongdae, enjoyed some classic student food, and spent all of our week’s budget on Soju from the local Family Mart. And why not? You only live once!
Much like sake in Japan, soju is the Korean alcoholic beverage of choice when you’re travelling through South Korea. All Korean men seem to consume this fermented drink on a large scale, and with an alcoholic content of around 20%ABV, it’s certainly quite strong! Whichever supermarkets I visited around the city, I saw so many different varieties of soju for sale, and it seemed a lack of soft drinks and water filled the chilled cabinets/shelves because the space was used for the soju! It must be a huge money-spinner in Korea!
Drinking food in Korea consists mainly of small snacks known as Anju. This can include pancakes (pajeon) and dumplings (mandu), but I am such a fan of chicken that dak galbi is probably my favourite Korean drinking snack. Dak galbi is basically stir fried chicken strips mixed in with gochujang sauce. Students in Seoul absolutely love it, as I found out! Whichever bar we visited in the Hongdae area, there were plenty of twenty-something Koreans enjoying a drink or two with a huge dish of dal galbi in the centre of the table!
Korean Fried Chicken, known locally as Yang Yeum, is also an identikit drinking snack in South Korea. This twice-fried and marinated chicken certainly puts American varieties to shame! It could be said that anything will taste better after a few bottles of soju (even live octopus!), but with the kind of chicken dishes I grew to love in Seoul, it became apparent that soju was not there to enhance any flavours, but to just add to the enjoyment of the meal!