When you are feeling really stressed or sad or lonely what do fantasize about eating?
Grandma’s apple pie?
Macaroni and cheese?
A box of Girl Scout Cookies?
For me, there is nothing better than a big ol’ bowl of crispy tortilla chips and guacamole. Eating this relieves me of any negative feelings (if only for a moment) and just makes me feel good.
That’s the point of comfort food, right? A food that promotes a sense of nostalgia and euphoria and makes you feel better.
In Korea, the best way to have a full comfort food experience is on a rainy, dreary day. This is when the masses of Koreans seek out a restaurant to eat jeon and drink makgeolli.
Jeon and Makgeolli. The Ultimate Korean Comfort Foods.
Alright, so what are they? Let’s start with Makgeolli!
Say it: mahk-oh-lee
Makgeolli is a creamy, fizzy “rice wine” popular all over Korea. It is Korea’s oldest alcohol, and started as a simple drink for farmers. The drink is full of carbs (hence the rice part of the wine) and gave the farmers energy to go about their days work.
Nowadays, makgeolli is super popular with people of all ages (and all occupations). Makgeolli bars around Korea are gaining traction, and the number of makgeolli flavors is almost overwhelming! (I discovered this first hand at the Makgeolli Festival my first week in Korea!).
What is it exactly?
It is a simple, unfiltered rice wine. Fermented rice, yeast and water make up the three main ingredients of makgeolli. Back in the day, families brewed their own makgeolli at home, but now the refrigerator section of any store is lined with different bottles. A bottle will set you back about 1,000-3,000 won. That would be $0.80-$2.75.
What does it taste like?
Makgeolli is a rice wine, but by no means does it taste like any wine I have ever had. It is a white color, and almost chalk-like, leaving a residue on your tongue. I promise it doesn’t taste like chalk though! It is a little sweet, and a tad sour. It is fizzy, like soda. It does not need to be mixed with anything, and it’s low in alcohol content, so you can drink a good amount of it before feeling any effects. The taste and carbonation reminds me a lot of a mimosa (champagne and orange juice).
There are tons of flavors of makgeolli, some sweetened with various fake fruity flavors. The best makgeolli (to me) is the basic unsweetened flavor.
How is it served?
It is served in a bowl, not a cup, though many makgeolli bars are serving makgeolli in glasses and as part of a cocktail.
Where to Drink it?
Wherever you want. Really! Makgeolli is found at all grocery stores and convenient marts, as well as restaurants. The Makgeolli Mama’s and Papa’s have created a great resource on the different grocery store makgeolli brands. Depending where you are in Korea, you will find different kinds of makgeolli.
What do you drink it with?
Anything! I always pack a bottle of makgeolli on a hike and enjoy it on the summit of the mountain. The best thing to drink makgeolli with is jeon. Which brings us to our next spotlight!
Say it: juhn
Jeon translates to pancake, and while not quite the fluffy, golden brown circles topped with maple syrup, the two kinds of pancakes are kind of similar.
In the simplest form, jeon is meat and/or vegetables coated in flour and egg and fried. There are so many kinds of jeon. I think pretty much anything you want to coat in flour and egg fry is considered jeon.
The name is whatever the main ingredient is + jeon. Soooooo, kimchi jeon = kimchi pancake. Gamjajeon = potato pancake.
But the simplicity of the idea does not mean the dish is basic in flavor. Even though there are just a few ingredients (flour, egg, water, sugar, salt, oil), jeon is savory and filling. You can find crispy jeon, soft jeon, doughy jeon or jeon with very little dough. I personally love thick jeon filled with tons of vegetables and seafood.
How is it served?
There are a few different ways jeon is eaten and served. For the most part, this dish is found accompanying larger meals as side dishes (banchan). It is also eaten as anju, which means food to eat while you are drinking. But don’t let those two popular ways to eat it sway your thoughts. If you want a meal of jeon, you can easily find a restaurant serving it!
Different Kinds of Jeon
Like I mentioned earlier, jeon takes the name of whatever the main ingredient is. The most popular kind of jeon is kimchi jeon and haemul pajeon (seafood and leeks). You can make jeon out of anything. Shrimp, beef, pork, tofu, and every kind of vegetables are fair game.
Where to eat it?
Pajeon is popular to eat after hiking. You will find many small restaurants at the base of mountains selling it. Jeon alley in Gwangnum Market is another great place to really experience jeon. Many restaurants sell jeon to eat with drinks, or as small sides to your main meal.
When to eat it?
Like I mentioned in the beginning, jeon is lusted after on a rainy, dreary day. Pajeon is also eaten after a long hike.
There you have it. Jeon and Makgeolli, the ultimate Korean comfort foods!