In the grand scheme of things, my life with drink and food is a journey into fabulous memory, and exceptional revelry. I had a "brief" life changing experience in Korea teaching English in 1995, which provided me a great backbone in an ethnic cuisine that I have adopted since as my "favorite". The flip-side I discovered was a culture that liked to imbibe to great joy (if not to extreme excess) with their own unique concoctions. That concoction I learned was a drink that should be adopted as the national drink of Korea which is called soju.
Soju in all it's glory is really nothing more than vodka, traditionally made with rice, but commonly now often filled with grains, and starches (particularly potatoes). I was told back in my day the good stuff was made with rice, and the cheap "shit" from potatoes. Regardless what I always remembered was a drink that was cheap as borscht (A bottle cost the equivalent of 80 cents US), and would be commonly poured into slurpee cups in Itaewon for a bit of cavorting and insanity by American stationed soldiers. The stories we all have of soju are all fond and large, even if perhaps the after stories are less than glorious, but those late night orange soju tents that dotted the Seoul and numerous Korean city landscapes will forever be in my heart with my drinking compatriots.
Returning to the land of North America, I soon discovered this drink was not available. In fact I even heard that from the land of the U-S-A, the product did not pass inspection. We joked back in the times in Korea that we were positive the brew did not contain shall we say, ingredients of distinction. Scanning the shelves of the corner cheapo stores, we would even see bottles not filled to appropriate levels. Those bottles we joked were not the ones we were told to buy, cause they were (assumed) to be filled with antifreeze (or god knows what), perhaps re-capped from a lazy employee who had to take a nip before returning home.
Fast forward over a decade later (probably more so but then I'd be dating myself), I go down to my neighborhood Maryland county store and I am seeing soju on the shelves. Not only was it on the shelves, but as much as the green bottles provided a distinct recognition, there was finally English on the labels that described what was on the label.
It was time to make a revisit for this classic drink. Living in the Washington DC area (encompassing the suburbs of nearby Maryland and Virginia (or as they say Northern Virginia [NOVA]) ) I became very familiar with a neighborhood of Northern Virginia called Annandale which has a great Korean community. Aside from the choice and places to buy Korean food and goods, I even ran into a drink called seju (not to be confused with soju). Closer still much Korean and Asian markets dot the Washington DC landscape to keep me more than satiated.
In my interest of all things delicious to imbibe, my first delve into "seju" was distinctly memorable. I thought it was to be the equivalent of it's "soju" brother, but the distinct hangul writing made a mental note that this was a drink that makes soju for all intense purposes, a lightweight.
Seju is what soju can be when it wants to be sophisticated, as opposed to the numerous late night "soju-drunks" I ran into in many late nights, through dark alleys, and passed out citizens on street corners. Seju is what soju should be, when it grows up. This seju here though, consists of rice wine fermented with corn starch, herbs, and wheat flour.
One last thing. Soju and Korean drink needs to be consumed with two things. Food, and secondly the obvious, friends and compatriots. I decided that it was high time to revisit and imbibe this drink. Check out the video below, and a great food romp into some deliciousness.
as they say in Korea ... KONBAY!!! (Cheers) enjoy the video below! (click the YouTube icon to open in another window)