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Learning How to Make Makgeolli

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Along with soju, makgeolli (막걸리) is one of the most popular beverages in Busan. The milky-white drink is made of rice and wheat, and only slightly more alcoholic than beer. We visited a factory in the mountain village of Geumseong-dong to learn first-hand how it’s made.


It was still monsoon season, and we had to battle through torrential rains to find the makgeolli hall. Once safely inside, we were put right to work. The guy in charge of the experience didn’t speak much English, but was fluent in slave-driving, and you don’t need to converse with your slaves. Within the first minute of our arrival, he sat me down in front of a big bowl of wheat, poured a little water onto it, and motioned that I should get to kneading.

So while Jürgen walked around taking pictures, I kneaded. Ten minutes later, my hands and forearms were burning, but the wheat was still not to Master’s liking. With a frown on his face and a shake of his head, he bade me continue for another five minutes. Next, I was taught how to form the wheat into heart-sized balls and pressed them into discs. These wheat cakes would now have to dry for fifteen days.

Master had an already-dried cake ready to go, and led me to a giant pestle where he put an oar-sized mortar into my hands. I spent the next few minutes crushing the wheat into a fine powder, which we then mixed with steamed rice. Now, I packed this mixture into plastic bottles, filled each with tap water and finished them with a heaping dollop of honey. And that was it. The concoction would ferment for four days, and the result (after straining) would be makgeolli.


We were allowed to bring both the cakes and bottles home with us. He drove us back into town, where we saw the hall in which the larger wheat cakes were drying, and the clay jars of makgeolli fermenting. The shed was surprisingly rustic, considering that this is a modern industry — Geumseong-dong’s makgeolli is widely drunk throughout Busan.

Back home, we stored our makgeolli jars in the cupboard without a lid on, as per Master’s final instructions. It had begun fermenting immediately, and we watched with delight as the bubbles rose up out of the water, already busy at work producing alcohol. On Day Two, though, it was less delightful. Our apartment stunk like cheesy socks, and the mixture had attracted a host of fruit flies. After discovering a baby cockroach floating in one of the jars, we flushed the whole mess down the toilet.

Anyway, bottles of makgeolli only cost 81¢ in the supermarket, so we don’t exactly need to make it ourselves. The experience of doing so, though, was a blast. If you’d like to learn how to make makgeolli yourself, visit this website or schedule an appointment by calling 010-6532-6682. If you call, it might help if you speak Korean or have a Korean-speaker do it for you. The experience costs ₩10,000 ($9) per person.

Approx. location on our Busan Map

Korean Honey
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July 22, 2012 at 1:41 am Comment (1)

Soju Haiku

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Are more than one haiku called haiki? I don’t think so, but I’m too drunk on soju to really care. Imo, another bottle, please! And you might want a few, too, before reading my haiku. (Is more than one bottle of soju called soji?)

Evening of soju,
Puked on your boss and passed out.
It’s seven p.m.
If I drank as much
As that little old woman,
Hospital visit.
One hundred ten won?
But that’s less than a dollar…
You people are nuts!
Soju Busan

Soju is the most-sold liquor in the world, and it’s basically only consumed in Korea. Now, wrap your head around those two facts. Koreans drink more soju than everyone in the world drinks Johnnie Walker. That is insane. In 2004, more than three billion bottles were sold. Three billion.

Made from rice, soju tastes like vodka but sweeter. At about 20%, soju has a significantly lower alcohol content than the harder liquors, but the sheer amount that people drink makes up for that. Koreans drink soju everywhere; with dinner, chilling with friends, at the baseball game. We’ve seen hikers pull bottles out of their backpacks during breaks. And the price! You can get a small bottle for $0.99 at the supermarket. And though one is more than enough to intoxicate, it’s customary for a couple having dinner at a restaurant to put down three or more.

Drinking soju is a huge part of the culture here, and comes with its own set of rules. It’s nearly always consumed neat, in shot glasses which are sipped from. But should your drinking buddy issue the rallying cry “One-Shot”, you should pound it all at once. Empty glasses should be immediately refilled, and the younger, or lower-status person should always refill the glass of his superior, using two hands. If someone hands you an empty glass, it means he intends on pouring for you, and you hold your glass with two hands to receive.

We’ve been met with incredulity from some Koreans when we order soju — they find it hard to believe that we actually like the stuff. The truth is, we don’t. Not really. If I have the choice between a shot of whiskey and soju, I would always choose the former. But we’re cheap drunks, and 99 cents a bottle isn’t something we’re going to pass up.

Busan Travel Book Coming Soon

Soju Drunk
Soju Glasses
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June 23, 2012 at 1:50 am Comments (5)

Busan Food Journal, Part Two

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Early on, we started to learn how to pick out some of the Korean words for foods we especially liked. Bibimbap is easy, mostly a lot of “b”s strung together (비빔밥). And we could quickly identify both bulgogi and kalguksu. But we weren’t out of the woods yet! On one Saturday night, we sat down a popular place in Seuyoung and only realized at the last minute that they serve strictly intestines. Props to the English-speaking kid at the neighboring table for warning us!

Food Journal: Part One | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

BBQ Pork (목삼왕소금구이)

This was an adventurous meal at K’ubso-K’ubso (꿉소꿉소), near the Geumnyeonsan metro station (location). We were feeling confident (or, a little buzzed on soju) and took our seats at this popular restaurant, knowing full well that the menu would be entirely in Korean without any pictures. We didn’t even have our dictionary. And so we used the venerable and classy “walk around with the waiter and point at other people’s tables” method of ordering… and ended up with a great spread. [More Pics]

Hotteok (호떡)

These mini-pancakes stuffed with sugar, spices and sunflower seeds are one of the more popular types of street snack in Busan. We tried them once at BIFF Square (location), and they were good! But to make sure that the first time wasn’t a fluke, we tried them again. Yep, still good. We weren’t convinced though… and decided to try them a few more times to make extra-sure. It took forty-three hotteok-tastings, before an adequate confidence level was reached. Forty-four. It’s simply what we must do to maintain the integrity of our blog. [More Pics]

Korean Melon (오꿀복)
Korean Melon

The first time I saw this beautifully shaped and colored fruit, I thought it was an orange which had been carved for decoration. But then I saw them being sold by an old guy on the street, and realized there was no way he had carved all those oranges. I bought a few, and was surprised to discover that they’re in fact tender, sweet melons. To eat, just cut lengthwise down the middle, scoop out the seeds (I use my thumbs) and peel off the skin.

Cheese Tonkatsu (돈가스)
Cheese Tonkatsu

Tonkatsu is a dish which was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese, and has since found a permanent foothold in the cuisine of Busan. Our friends Robert and Jumi from Paella de Kimchi took us to a great restaurant called Rila Bapjip (릴라 밥집 – location) to try the crispy-fried pork cutlets. They were covered in a thick sauce and stuffed with cheese. So delicious, and the gorilla-themed Japanese restaurant near the PNU University was cute.

Waffle and Ice Cream
Korean Waffle

Is it a traditional Korean dessert? Do I care? Waffles are a popular breakfast item here, and at BeansBins (perhaps my favorite of Korea’s many coffee chains – location), they’re sold with two scoops of ice cream plopped on top. This makes for an excellent Sunday brunch.

Kimchi Jigae (김치 찌개)
Kimchi Stew

Gim-Bap-Jeon-Guk (김밥전국), on the southern end of Gwangalli Beach (location), turned into our go-to restaurant when we can’t be bothered to find anything else. Cheap, good and, most importantly, close to our apartment. Plus, the three women who work there are accustomed to dealing with foreigners. When I spit out “chu-cheon hae-ju-shi-gess-eo-yo” (What do you recommend?), our waitress took a second to figure out what I was trying to say, then laughed and pointed to the Kimchi Jigae, a rich stew. So that’s what we got, and it was delicious.

Bo-ri-bap (보리밥)

Not the best meal that we’ve had in Busan, Boribap is a dish of boiled rice and barley mixed with veggies and sauce. We tried this at a small joint near City Hall called Go-Hyang (고향 – location), which was full of women on their lunchtime break. All conversation stopped when we entered, and fifty eyes monitored our clumsy efforts to kneel and sit indian-style at the last open table. The other diners left us alone while eating, but as they left, each one stopped at our table to say “goodbye”. Kind of sweet. [More Pics]

More Pics and a Video from the Bulgogi BBQ
Meat Cutting
Korean Food
Korean Egg
Korean BBQ Busan
More Pics of Hotteok
Sweets Korean
Korean Street Food
Another picture of Boribap
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May 18, 2012 at 3:27 am Comments (5)
Learning How to Make Makgeolli Along with soju, makgeolli (???) is one of the most popular beverages in Busan. The milky-white drink is made of rice and wheat, and only slightly more alcoholic than beer. We visited a factory in the mountain village of Geumseong-dong to learn first-hand how it's made.
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