You’ve probably heard it before, “It’s raining ~ let’s drink makgeolli!” But why is this the battle cry whenever the heavens open? Why do Koreans drink makgeolli on rainy days? You might notice that whenever it rains in Korea, the bars and restaurants specializing in makgeolli and pajeon become full to the rafters. You might also notice that after living in Korea for a while, even you start craving a hot, steaming pajeon with a bowl of chilled makgeolli, or Korean rice wine, the minute the sky starts to cloud over.
The rainy season, also called monsoon season, or jangma (장마), strikes in the summer each year in South Korea. Usually starting at the middle or end of June and running until the end of July, the rainy season can come in waves with a couple weeks of rain at once or just a few days of rain too. Recent years have seen the iconic Han River flood numerous times unfortunately. While no one celebrates the oncoming of rainy season, it does bring on an increase of sales in makegolli and jeon.
Well as with a lot of these kinds of cultural nuggets, there is no clear answer but there are plenty of theories.
Theory 1: Some theorize that the refreshing nature of alcohol and delicious fried food releases serotonin to cheer us up on a gloomy, rainy day. Thus after partaking in the routine a few times, our bodies just know what to crave when the rains start to drip and drop.
Theory 2: Others say that the rise in humidity causes a drop in blood sugar levels, causing us to crave carbohydrates found in the flour of battered jeon. Whether it’s this theory or the first, it seems our bodies are betraying us in search of the jeon.
Theory 3: While those explanations might sound a bit dubious, there is one commonly held reason that we find to be much more romantic. As soon as the batter hits the oil in the pan, the all familiar ‘hissing’ sounds just like the pitter-patter of rain hitting a tin roof. So as the temperature drops a few degrees and the raindrops begin to fall, the satisfying feeling from eating pajeon and drinking makgeolli starts calling!
If pajeon is not your thing, there are plenty of other excellent dishes that go with makgeolli on a particularly rainy day. Recently we experimented with pairing a home-made pork schnitzel and a fresh, sparkling small-batch makgeolli. To say that it was delicious would be an understatement! We have believed for a long time now in the potential for Korean alcohol to be paired with all different cuisines, and this particular match hit all the right notes.
For those who want to enjoy rainy weather with friends in a makgeolli bar, one of the best places to go is White Bear Makgeolli & Pub in Apgujeong. Not only does this bar have one of the most impressive and extensive lists of makgeolli from around the country, but they also offer incredible mungbean pancakes. These ‘Binddaedeok’ are also big favourites in the rainy weather, and White Bear sources the batter direct from a famous street-food stall in Gwangjang Market.
Whatever the reason behind why we drink makgeolli and eat pajeon on a rainy day, we are happy for the excuse to eat, drink and be merry!