Korean dramas may not be your thing, but what you can’t deny is that they give non-Koreans, a glimpse into culture. Food is the reason why I get hooked. Watching people under a pojangmacha (food tent) kicking back ddeokbokki and enjoying bottles of soju late at night in modern day Seoul, or sitting in a neighborhood restaurant wolfing down samgyeopsal in Jeju-do, Korean dramas expose us to a few everyday occurrences, even if they are glamorized representations.
I first learned about makgeolli, or traditional unfiltered rice wine, on a Korean reality show and was soon curious to find out what it tasted like. The problem is, although Hilo is classified as a city, it’s not so metropolitan, so authentic Korean ingredients are somewhat limited. One day after work, Carolina and I headed over to Cham Cham, a local Korean restaurant and got to talking to the owner. Alan gave us the skinny on where to find makgeolli: Kadota’s Liquor, the same place I ducked into when I was in college to pick up the extremely affordable Strawberry Hill, in a paper bag. But I digress.
I got home, chilled it, gave it a good shake, and popped it open. I won’t lie. I imagined it would taste like Pokari Sweat because of its appearance, but it wasn’t even close. I’ve tasted soju before, so this was “soju-esque”, a little sweeter, definitely a lot milder, but with a lot less alchohol. Perfect for someone like me, who drinks once a year.
I stood in my kitchen, ready to pour another swig when my eye caught the pantry door. I threw it open and saw a can of lychee. Sacrilegious, I know, especially when I live in Hilo and have ready access to Farmer’s Markets, but the frou-frou drink person in me needed a little help getting the makgeolli down. I emptied the contents of the can into a decanter, poured the makgeolli in, gave it a stir, corked the top, and returned it to the refrigerator. 1 hour later and coming off my temporary buzz from the last shot, I gently shook the decanter and poured another glass. Eureka! It worked! The sweetness from the lychee syrup in addition to the actual lychees made it more palatable for the blended strawberry margarita girl that I am.
If you’re a makgeolli purist and connoisseur, this might not be for you, but if you’re a little adventurous when it comes to alcohol, you’ll just need to find the right mix of makgeolli and lychee/syrup to your liking. If you ever decide to serve makgeolli in a sassy cocktail glass, a single lychee can serve as a garnish and quietly infuse your drink. Yum! I’ve not experimented beyond lychee, but I imagine there might be other combinations that would work. Watermelon sounds divine!
I do hope you try serving this lovely combination at Korean themed dinners at home. This little cocktail has become a favorite addition to our get togethers and adds to the beautiful mix of good food, good times, and great friends.
건배… Gunbae! Bottoms up!