Korean Language Blog

Busan Cave Bar’s Makgeolli, Dongdongju Is Korea’s Best City Escape Posted by on May 16, 2015 in Culture, Uncategorized

Hidden to even Busan natives, “Dragon Dream” (용꿈) is a makgeolli (막걸리) bar with two twists: a former World War II Japanese bomb shelter carved into the mountain during the colonization of Korea, and a unique version of makgeolli called dongdongju (동동주).

The cave (동굴) drips with water seeping through the rock, calcium deposits growing in small rooms, and naturally there is a nearly two meter dragon near the entrance.  Located a short taxi drive from Busan’s “downtown” Seomyeon (서면), the “Cave Bar”, as it is know to expats, is a city escape inside the mountain.

The difference begins with the makgeolli itself.  Dongdongju is made from sticky rice that floats in it, whereas makgeolli is brewed from hard rice (고두밥).  Both can be made with either glutinous rice (찹쌀), the preferred method for more sweet than sour, and non-glutinous rice.  A special Korean wheat yeast (누룩) is added along with a sweetener like rice sugar syrup, and water, which makes up 80% of makgeolli.  (Some Koreans like to mix either type with “cider” or a lemon-line soda, such as Lotte’s Chilsung.)  It takes about four days for fermentation.  Both makgeolli and dongdongju are roughly 6%-8% in alcohol content.

The restaurant once served the typical food accompanying makgeolli: pajeon (파전), a rolled up omelette (계란말이), kimchi with tofu (두부김치), and several more.  But recently the restaurant turned into a haemul-jjim (해물찜) restaurant, a mix of steamed or braised seafood with bean sprouts (콩나물)  covered in a spicy sauce, a dish less popular with expats and one that runs on the high end.  (For a look at what haemul-jjim means to some, see this clip from the Korean drama “Let’s Eat” [식샤를 힙시다].) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKn-gpWqSxw

Although the video below will show you the strong belief–particularly held by the older generations–that makgeolli has fantastic benefits towards longevity and weight loss, it is legendary for giving the finest hangover (숙취).  But Korean hangover cures, mostly in a soup version (해장국), date back as far as makgeolli itself, over 600 years to the Goryeo Dynast (고려원조).

The restaurant is not easy to find.  But if you find yourself in Busan, try telling/showing this to your taxi driver: 위치 (location): 범일1동사무소 앞 한상기린 아파트 맞은편.

The Arirang report is a must watch to understand how important makgeolli is to the traditional folks and Korea culture as a whole.


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About the Author: Tony Kitchen

Tony is a seasoned traveler who lived in Busan, South Korea from 2008-2012. While living in South Korea, he traveled extensively around Asia. After leaving, he spent 100 days traveling from Russia to Germany and many places in between. Currently, he lives and works in Budapest, Hungary, focusing on South Korean and East Asian business. Tony has an M.A. in International Relations with a specific focus on South Korean-U.S. relations and North Korea.