Alcohol Alternatives. Or, the ‘ICing’ on the Fried Fish

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8 p.m. Classes have been over an hour. We’re back to our normal schedules at my hagwon now that the kids are back in school. I’ve graded some papers, kibitzed with the other foreign teacher, got the approval for two days off in October from my boss that will give me a five-day chunk to visit friends in Japan and now it was time to head home.

But first, I decided to stop into the little mart (for anyone not in Korea, pretty much any place that sells any thing is called a mart here. Not supermarket, though that is used. But even a supermarket would be a mart. Just roll with it) next to my school to pick up a couple things, as at the time I thought I’d make a tuna fish sandwich for dinner (I ended up eating some fried fish, but that’s not the point).

During my walk through Samsung Mart (side note/tangent: do you other folks here in Korea notice just how much a stranglehold a few corporations have on this country? Samsung Mart? Really? Is this little neighborhood store actually owned by the same people that make my smartphone and the crappy TV I had as a kid? Or, is Samsung like “Kim,” in that two Kims aren’t necessarily related? Moving on), I caught a glimpse of the small booze section and got a bit thirsty. Lately, I’ve had more of a taste for alcohol than usual. Not in the “I need to drink it all until I pass out” kind of way, but after work, I’ve just had a taste for a can or a bottle or two, no more. Maybe it’s because I work with kids.

Anyway, as this is a small mart and not, say, Home plus–with its massive selection of fine wines and beers–most of the alcohol was your standard Korean fare (soju, Hite, OB, Cass, et al.) and a few mass-consumed exports (Budweiser, Asahi, Hoegarden). But, I just wasn’t feeling like drinking another beer tonight.

That’s when my eyes caught onto something I had not seen before. Or, I had seen but had glanced over in favor of something else.

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ICing.

I checked to make sure this was in fact booze. Imagine how disappointed I would be if it was just plain old carbonated grapefruit juice. The horror.

4% was clearly displayed amid Korean gibberish. It’s alcohol, if in a low quantity. Hoegarden doesn’t have a lot of alcohol in it, either, so there you go.

And there I went to the register, where one of the regulars (the woman who taught me “peer-ee-oh opp-sah-yo,” or, it’s not necessary) waited to scan my items. She giggled at the sight of the silver can. Is this a girly drink or something? Whatever, Koreans are weird about stuff like that. I also love Appletini’s and Cosmos.

As I slid the can into my bag, she noted in English it was “Korean wine.” Now, I’ve had Korean wine, from a bottle, that tasted like cough syrup it had been carefully aged in a barrel and then dumped in a bottle of shitty grape juice, so I hoped she was a bit off the mark.

Thankfully, she was. I would put this closer to Alco-pop stalwarts like Smirnoff Ice or, for us Koreans and expats in Korea, KGB and Cruiser.

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The curious sniff.
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The first taste. First? Look at my eyes. Am I already drunk?
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The revelation. Hey, it’s pretty good!

Actually, I’d say it was a little better than both. For firsts, it wasn’t nearly as sweet. At about 120 calories per can, they could definitely add up but not nearly as much as those sweeter alternatives. Dare I say, it was a refreshing Korean beverage.

Or, maybe my standards have dropped dramatically low since I’ve come to Korea.

Now, I’m not out to knock cAss, sHite, unObstructed Bowels and Dry Finish (with a double-entendre-shattering name like that, it needs no other). That’s a well-trod road. And, I would never dare mock Max. I am, after all, its “Cream Master.” But, they’re far from great beers. And, sometimes, you need a change.

And, for just a little change (I believe it was 1,300 won), I got my refreshing, very slightly boozy alternative to enjoy tonight over some fried fish, freshly-prepared wasabi mayo and lettuce leaves.

And I was genuinely surprised by its existence. After six-plus months in South Korea, some things have just become so routine. Like booze. It’s nice to be shaken up a little.

But, don’t shake up the ICing. It’s carbonated, feller.

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