The Korean version of Billie Holiday’s pig foot and bottle of gin.
When Billie was singing about wanting a pigfoot and gin, she was also singing about a longing for home or a place that feels like home. A place where you can let it all hang out and no one will call the cops if you do:
I want a pigfoot and a bottle of gin
Send me daddy move right in
I feel just like I wanna shout
I long for a home that is long since gone so I have to count on my reflex nostalgia to keep my history, imagined and actual, intact. So what gets conjured when the twinge for “home” hits is the memory of eating dried squid with shots of soju with friends back in the early aughts when I was a temporary Seoulite. It’s archived in my mind’s storage under the subject heading THE WAY WE WERE.
It’s been years since I’ve partaken of the dried squid that by now must be the national, if unofficial, soju snack. This is largely due to my reluctance to break the borough barrier from Brooklyn into Manhattan (midtown no less!) where that lone Korean supermarket stands––it’s far away and daunting, kinda like Springsteen’s Mansion on the Hill. But I cracked and finally made a visit to there. The things one does for dried squid! Yeah, no deranged leprechauns or Furries did I have to appease to pass through the hallowed automated doors of the Korean supermarket. They must have been at their New Jersey location…
What I like about drinking soju is the etiquette that centers around the drinking of the soju. I hope Koreans remain adamant about keeping this ritual strong and unaltered, as it is a keen reminder of how un-western Koreans are, and I mean this in a good way. Aside from being a polite way to drink your booze, you will be able to see how this etiquette is a metaphor for how Koreans live their lives: gestures more than words are what you need to pay attention to.
Soju Etiquette 101
1. Pour for your elders. They are served first and wait until they drink before you do.
2. Never let an empty soju glass to stay empty for too long. If possible, fill it before it reaches the table after the person has taken their last shot.
3. Allow the drinker to finish the soju before pouring anymore in their glass.
4. Pour with the bottle in your right hand.
5. Hold your glass in your right hand when someone is pouring for you. Hold with both for extra deference if an elder is pouring for you.
6. Toast and drink the whole shot if possible.
Don’t like straight soju that much? Infuse it with your favorite fruits and herbs and serve over ice with tonic or club soda: