“Sneaky Fire Water”

The first time I had the Korean liquor soju, it was the day before my 23rd birthday.

I was living in Bangkok at the time, and in a random twist of fate, a very good friend from high school had popped back into my life. He had spent the last few months traveling and was cooling his jet-setting heels for a bit in the Thai City of Angels.

Our friendship reunited, he insisted on taking me out to dinner for a proper Korean meal as his birthday present. I was slowly starting to realize that the best gifts aren’t items, but life experiences, so I gladly accepted.

He found a delightful spot near my apartment, and we sat down to gorge ourselves on a scrumptious array of banchan (small side dishes) as the wait staff began to grill meat for us.

“Have you ever had soju?” he asked me.

“No, is it like sake?”

“Kind of, but better. It sneaks up on you”

A small green bottle of soju appeared at the table, and because I was older than him, he poured me a shot of perfectly clear and pleasant smelling liquid, then he poured himself one. We exchanged a loud “Geonbae!” and threw them back.

Sweet, smooth, and soothing, this soju stuff was great!

Part of Korean drinking culture (or at least that night it was) is to always keep the glasses full of others around the table. Pouring a drink for someone else is an act of respect, as well as drinking with one another. Over the course of a few hours, we polished off three bottles of soju together.

When complemented with smoking hot meat, this chilled and clear liquid seemed like the optimal counter-point to the charred and spicy flavors that were exploding in my mouth.

The meal done and our bellies full, we left the restaurant. Up until that moment, I had felt in full control of my senses. Standing outside, I turned to my friend.

“Oh man, I feel like I want to go get in a fight or something”

He laughed, “SojuJoey has arrived!”

Don’t worry, from that night until today, I’ve continued my pacifist streak of never getting into a fight. Like my streak of pacificism, my love affair with soju has continued as well. It’s been a staple in every Korean meal and Karaoke session since then.

Tonight I’ll be saying 여보세요 again to my old friend soju for a work event. I can’t wait to catch up with soju, hear the stories it has to tell and sing it’s praises with a loud “Geonbae!”

Soju – 3 out of 5 Stars

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