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[Op-Ed] Makgeolli

Posted October. 17, 2009 08:30,   


In the past, office workers, writers and artists at dusk used to go to bars in a narrow alleyway in Seoul’s Jongno district for a drink. Opening in the mid-1940s, such bars served mug bean pancakes and makgeolli, or milky white Korean rice wine. Since real estate redevelopment began in the spring this year, most of the bars have disappeared. Owners of the remaining bars are worried over exorbitant rents they have to pay if they move to new buildings. Regulars hope the remaining bars will open in new buildings, though they cannot expect the same atmosphere as in the past.

The popularity of makgeolli, which used to be the alcoholic beverage of the Korean lay population, is rising. Makgeolli bars are surfacing on college streets that were once lined with beer halls and restaurants in golf links, and food courts inside department stores also serve makgeolli. Passengers on international flights can also taste the spirit. Asiana Airlines will offer it in cans on flights to Japan.

Each province has brewed its own style of makgeolli. Those produced in Pocheon in Gyeonggi Province, Jangsu in Seoul, Dongrae in Busan, and Danyang in North Chungcheong Province are the most popular. Some of them have been exported to Japan. With the popularity of makgeolli growing, a variety of fusion rice wine catering to college students have appeared such as espresso makgeolli, which is mixed with coffee, and mango makgeolli, or mango juice spiked with the wine.

President Lee Myung-bak Wednesday invited foreign ambassadors and heads of international organizations to the presidential office to share makgeolli and traditional Korean food. He praised the drink by saying, “Makgeolli is good for health and especially for women in maintaining beauty and healthy skin.” At his summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama early this month, the president offered a toast with makgeolli. The chief executive’s alma mater Korea University, one of Korea’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, celebrated its centennial anniversary with wine to boost its international image. The university, however, is set to return to makgeolli. The Korean rice wine seems to have recovered its past glory.

Editorial Writer Park Yeong-kyun (parkyk@donga.com)