Korean drinking culture

Drinking culture in Korea

Koreans love to drink alcohol. Korea therefore has a unique drinking culture. In this article, I would like to tell you about this drinking culture in Korea.

You could say Korea is the Ireland of Asia.

There is also a lot of vocabulary about alcohol and drinking that foreigners don’t learn in language school. In this article you will learn everything that has to do with drinking.

What kind of alcohol do Koreans drink?

We usually drink soju (소주), maekju (맥주) or somaek (소맥) and sometimes makgeolli (막걸리). Let me explain these four most popular Korean drinks to you.

  1. Soju (소주)

Soju is a typical Korean liquor and the most popular alcohol, so soju is also called the national drink.

Soju has about 16-20% alcohol. Before the 1990s, soju had more than 25% alcohol, but it is getting weaker.
Soju always needs to be chilled, so it’s always put in the fridge.
The jars for soju are small.
We don’t usually drink soju alone, we usually drink it with someone.

I like soju better than beer, but since I live in Salzburg I don’t drink soju at all because I don’t want to drink alone. When you drink soju alone, it looks like you’re sad or having problems.

  1. Maekju (맥주).

We also like to drink beer. Beer is called Maekju in Korean.

I think Korean beer is lighter than European beer. There are fewer different types of beer in Korea than in Europe.
Until ten years ago we could only drink European beer in special bars and it was expensive, but nowadays we can buy it in the supermarket.

  1. Somaek (소맥)

Somaek is sojuand maekju. To make somaek, you just mix soju and maekju, so you can just mix it yourself at the restaurant and at home. There is no menu for somaek in the restaurant or bar. Soju and maekju in a 2:8 or 3:7 ratio are the most delicious.

I think the taste of somaek is better than soju or maekju, but the next day you have a bad hangover because it’s a poktanju (폭탄주).

Poktanju (폭탄주) literally means Poktan bomb, Ju alcohol, meaning bomb alcohol. A mixture of different alcohols is called Poktanju.

You can watch a video of Somaek Domino here.

Why is it called Poktanju?

I’m not sure why, but here’s my guess.

When we make poktanju, we put a small glass of soju in the beer glass. It looks like a bomb dropped and when you drink Poktanju, your head hurts like you were hit by a bomb.

  1. Makgeolli (막걸리)

Makgeolli is a traditional alcohol and is made from rice, so it is called rice wine.

I can still remember my mother making makgeolli herself at home. After she made it, she ate the rest of the rice from the makgeolli. Therefore, makgeolli is white like milk and we drink it from a bowl, not a glass.

There’s also Dongdongju (동동주), which is a similar alcohol to makgeolli and has a few grains of rice.

When Koreans drink alcohol, they eat anju (안주).

Koreans usually drink soju while eating. When we drink alcohol while eating, we call it banju (반주 飯酒). Whether it’s soju, maekju or makgeolli.

There are certain dishes that go well with soju, maekju or makgeolli.
For example, grilled meat (삼겹살, 갈비) and stew (찌개, 탕) go well with soju and dried fish, nuts, fried chicken (후라이드 치킨) and sausages go well with maekju.

You’ve heard of Korean chimaek (치맥) before. Chimaek (치맥) is Chicken(치킨) and Maekju(맥주). Korean fried chicken is special.

Regular fried chicken is very crispy and there is also spicy chicken with chili sauce or with garlic or with soy sauce. There are many bars that only prepare fried chicken (치킨집) and also deliver it home with maekju on tap (생맥주).

Click on Chimaek’s link.

Korean pancake called pajeon (파전) goes well with makgeolli.
I don’t know why, but we say if it rains, we want Pajeon with Makgeolli.
It often rains in Salzburg. I always miss Pajeon with Makgeolli.

Click on the link from Makgeolli & Pajeon.

At dinner we drink banju and we continue to the bar after dinner.
We still order food at the bar because we always drink alcohol with food.

If you can’t or don’t want to drink, you can still go to the bar with others who want to drink. You can also just eat in the bar without drinking.

The food for alcohol in the bar is called Anju (안주). Anju is usually simpler and smaller than real food, but it can also be a real dish. At the bar we have to order Anju. It’s like you order drinks at a restaurant when you eat out. However, we don’t have to order drinks with our meal at the restaurant.

Nowadays, there are many European-style bars (바) in Korea. You may not have to order anju there. However, you’ll have to order anju at a Korean bar (술집).

I think if you eat enough when you drink, you don’t get drunk quickly. It’s good for the stomach, right?

What’s Cheers in Korean?

Cheers is Geonbae (건배), but currently young people say Zzan (짠) instead of Geonbae (건배). Zzan (짠) is actually the sound when the glasses are bumped.

Drinking culture in Korea

Koreans call alcohol drinking etiquette judo (주도 酒道) in Korean. Ju is alcohol and Do is etiquette. So how to be polite when drinking with someone else. So judo in Korea is not the Japanese martial art of the same name, judo (유도 柔道).

Korean Judo is also very important because it is related to politeness.

The Korean drinking etiquette you need to know

General Judo in Korea

  1. After cheers Geonbae or Zzan you have to do one-shot (원샷). One-shot means you have to finish one glass of alcohol at a time. After the one-shot, sometimes you have to hold your glass over your head with the opening down to prove it’s really drunk.
    Soju’s glass is small, but the beer glass is big. How to finish maekju on ex?
    Most can’t, but you have to at least show that you’ve tried.
  1. When someone pours you alcohol, you must raise your glass. A beer glass is big and hard to lift, so you can just hold it at a bit of an angle.
    If you missed the timing to lift your glass, at least touch and hold the glass with your hand until the glass is full.
  1. When the glass of your counterpart is empty, you should pour him alcohol.

  2. It’s rude to pour your own alcohol. You’ll have to wait until someone pours for you. You can say it directly or just raise your glass and they’ll know you want more.
    In Korea there is a joke that says that someone who pours alcohol for himself will stay single forever.

  3. If someone still has alcohol in their glass, they need to finish it before you pour them more.

Judo when you drink with respecters

  1. When pouring or being poured alcohol, always hold the glass with both hands. With one hand, it’s rude, but there’s another reason.
    Our traditional costume Hanbok (한복) is not tight, so the sleeves are also wide. Therefore, one had to hold the sleeve of the other arm with one hand so as not to touch food or alcohol.
    If the respecter pours you alcohol, sitting far away, you must stand up and hold the glass out to him.
  1. When cheering, you are to hold your glass with both hands and hold it lower than the glass of the person you are respecting and toast.

  2. After the toast, you should turn slightly away from your counterpart and drink while still holding the glass with both hands.

  3. Like I said, you’re basically supposed to take a one-shot, especially if the respec is taking a one-shot or pouring for you.

  4. When drinking with work colleagues, the oldest person drinks, for example, the boss usually gives another person his own glass and pours. The person must then make sure to take a one-shot before returning the glass and pouring again. This is a sign that the boss trusts this other person. He can continue with all the other people and thus a round. (술잔을 돌리다)

Alcohol and social constraints in Korea

As I mentioned at the beginning, Koreans like to drink and drink often. However, you don’t always drink because you want to drink. Often the drinking culture in Korea is determined by social constraints.

Koreans usually drink alcohol at dinner. This is the first Il Cha (1차).
After dinner we go to the bar. This is the Second I Cha (2차).
Afterwards we go to the Karaoke Noraebang (노래방) and sing, but of course we keep drinking. This is Third Sam Cha (3차). Eating, drinking, noraebang to sam cha (3차) are basic.
If we go somewhere to drink more alcohol, then we continue with the numbers Sa Cha (4차), O Cha (5차), Yuk Cha (6차) and so on.

Even though I don’t want to, sometimes I absolutely have to drink because I belong or want to belong to that social group.

Thank God! I like to drink!

At the university

In Korea, students have their own unique culture. I’ll tell you about it in another article later.

When you become a freshman at the university, you are first greeted with a welcome meeting. It is a party that students who have been studying at the university for several years prepare for new students.

They usually spend a night together in a boarding house and they drink a lot.

If the older students pour alcohol for the new students, the younger students absolutely must drink. It has changed a lot now, but there were sometimes students who died of alcohol poisoning in the process.

After every semester they have a party to celebrate the end of the semester, that’s when they drink a lot. So there are lots of parties and outings, lots of opportunities to drink. While drinking, they also play games. If you lose, you have to drink alcohol as punishment. The penalty, of course, is one-shot!

Watch the video to understand what I mean.

It’s also a community culture at the university. We drink, talk and discuss with other students together. Then we have a community and it is important that we belong to the community.

I also drank a lot and often as a student. The community was important to me too, but I just liked alcohol and could drink a lot back then. Haha! 🙂

In Korea you can see that there are many restaurants, cafes and bars around the universities.

In the past there were many problems because students did not study, but only drank and partied. For the past 20 years, the university credit system has changed and due to economic difficulties, students are currently learning a lot. Otherwise they won’t find a good job.

Alcohol after work

After work, we sometimes have hoishik (회식 會食). Hoishik is the name given to eating together with colleagues after work, but not only eating, but also drinking.

Hoishik is more about drinking than eating, though. As I said, at university the younger students should drink if the older ones ask them to. It’s even more so at work, of course! It’s mostly forced.

For the old generation, work or the company is more important than their family.

In the past, if you didn’t go to the hoishik, you could get into trouble because it seemed like you didn’t want to belong to the community. It was bad for the career.

The younger generation, however, is against it. They think Hoishik is an extension of work.

Hoishik is also about 1, 2, 3 Cha and even though you have a bad hangover the next day, you have to go back to work on time and work well as if nothing happened. I received credit for it. Heeey!

However, larger companies have limited Hoishik to 1 Cha these days. The reason is to prevent sexual harassment of female employees.

Hoishik culture was a problem, so a lot of things changed.

What do Koreans eat for hangovers?

After drinking, you have a hangover the next day. Koreans eat haejangguk (해장국) for breakfast to fight a hangover.
Haejang (해장 解酲) means to soothe the hangover and guk (국) is a soup.
So Haejangguk (해장국) is a soup that relieves hangovers.
Kongnamulguk (콩나물국) and Bugeoguk (북어국) are well-known Haejangguk (해장국) dishes.
Kongnamul (콩나물) are soybean sprouts, but it’s different from regular bean sprouts. So Kongnamulguk is a soybean sprout soup.

Click on the link from Kongnamulguk.

Bugeo (북어) is dried fish, Pacific pollock, so Bugeoguk (북어국) is a soup with dried fish pollock.

Click on the link from Bugeoguk.

Why are Kongnamulguk and Bugeoguk good for hangovers?

Aspartic acid and arginine in soybean sprouts, and many methionines and amino acids in pollock, contribute to the breakdown of acetaldehyde in alcohol.

However, I don’t know what that is.
In my experience, I honestly say! I also liked alcohol and drank a lot, so I had a lot of hangovers. So I tried different soups, but these two Kongnamulguk and Bugeoguk were really good for hangover breakfast. I was able to settle my stomach with these.

The drinks against hangover

Drinks for hangovers have been available in Korea since 1992 Shukchuihaesoje (숙취해소제).
A company has invented a drink called ,,Conditon (컨디션)”, which people drink before hoishik, before drinking alcohol, to reduce hangovers.

You can watch an ad for “Conditon”.

At the time, this drink led to a sensation.
Office workers appear at the commercial. Such peculiar drinks only come out because of Korean drinking culture or hoishik culture.

A Korean American tried the drink in Korea and replicated it in the US. They’ve been around in America since 2016, and they’re getting a lot of sales.

There are many varieties of the drinks now and you can easily buy them from the convenience store (편의점) which is open 24 hours and offers simple food.

Want to experience Korean drinking culture too?
그럼, 우리 같이 한 잔 할까요? I’m an expert on that! 🙂

잔 하다 l iterally means to drink a glass of alcohol. But that doesn’t just mean drinking a glass, it means drinking alcohol in general.
우리 같이 한 잔 할까요? Do you want to drink alcohol together?

Important phrases and vocabulary:

주도 (酒道) drinking etiquette
술 Alcohol
소주 Soju
맥주 Maekju
소맥 Somaek (Soju + Maekju)
막걸리 rice wine
폭탄주 Bomb alcohol, mixed alcohol
안주 Eating for drinking
반주 Alcohol at dinner
건배, 짠 Cheers
후라이드 치킨 Fried Chicken
양념치킨 Fried chicken with chili sauce
마늘치킨 Fried Chicken with Garlic
간장치킨 Fride chicken with soy sauce
치맥 Chicken and Maekju
생맥주 Draft beer
파전 Pancake
집 House
술집 Alcohol House, Ordinary Bar
바 modern and western bar
원샷 one-shot, drink up in one go, drink up ex.
숙취 Hangover
숙취가 있다/없다 have a/no hangover
숙취해소제 Drinks for hangovers
해장 alleviating the hangover
해장하다 alleviate the hangover
술과 궁합이 맞는 음식 Food that goes with alcohol.
술잔을 돌리다 give my glass to others and pour alcohol.
회식 eating together after work.
회식하다 Verb from Hoishik
편의점 Convenience Store
애주가 the person who likes to drink alcohol.
과음하다 drink a lot of alcohol
토하다 throw up
오바이트하다 originally comes from the English word ,,overeat” or ,,overheat”, but it means to pass over. We call these words Konglish(Korean +English)