What does anju mean? Anju is food to eat while drinking alcohol.
Among the many special features of Korean drinking culture–peer pressure to rival the wildest fraternity, the highest rate of liquor consumption in the world, its centrality to success at work, the acceptability of coming to work hungover–is the taboo against drinking without eating.
Going to the second place (이차) on a work outing? Stuffed after an hour or more eating wave upon wave of grilled pork belly (삼겹살)? Doesn’t matter–you’re still ordering some fried chicken or a fruit plate.
Think that $5 (W6,000) all-you-can-drink river of makkeolli looks great? Better check on the food menu, cause you’re gonna have to order at least one $15+ plate of food–anju is also how a lot of establishments make the real money.
Anju is a Sino-Korean word. The Classical Chinese characters are 按酒–literally, to block or keep down + alcohol.
Context: Types of anju
Almost anything can be anju, and there is so much drinking going on in Korea that there are many, many foods that would be readily recognized as such. Many are commonly paired with a particular type of drink. Here are a few examples–if you want to read more, and have enough Korean, check out this web comic (manhwa 만화).
Grilled lamb skewers (yangkkochi 양꼬치): Lamb in general hasn’t enjoyed much popularity in Korea, but these days, lamb skewers have become a new anju trend, especially in Chinese restaurants equipped with special tables for grilling them. They’re served with Tsingtao beer and sometimes baijiu, a rather distinctive-tasting Chinese liquor.
Fried stuffed peppers (gochutwigim 고추튀김):
At Hanjan eui Chueok (한잔의 추억, Memory of a Drink), or HanChu, in Gangnam, fried peppers stuffed with beef are a treat with cold lager.
Dried fish, squid and meat (jwipo 쥐포, ojingeo 오징어, yukpo 육포): Dried protein is often served as anju. The picture above I took at a big drinking house in Gangnam after the wedding reception of a friend, but it’s also popular to have this kind of anju while drinking on the plastic chairs outside convenience stores, which often sell it. Salted peanuts or other nuts are also eaten in this context.
Chicken (치킨): This could be considered a meal on its own, really, but when I asked my husband about his favorite anju, this was at the top of his list. Usually eaten with beer in the chimaek context.
Pizza (피자): As craft beer (sujemaekju 수제맥주) has taken off in Korea over the past few years, pizza has become a popular anju to go along with it. As wiki.namu notes, pizza goes especially well with ale-style beers.
Tofu and kimchi (dubukimchi 두부김치): This dish of warm kimchi stir-fried with pork and served with a firm tofu is often served with makkeolli (막걸리), a cloudy white, traditional Korean drink often called a rice wine in English. This photo is from Damotori 다모토리 in Seoul.
Savory pancake (chŏn 전): Kimchijeon (kimchi pancakes) and haemul pajeon (seafood and green onion pancakes) are probably the most common of the many types of jeon, all of which are delicious with makkeolli. This is bomnamul jeon (봄나물전), savory pancake with spring greens, at 이파리 in Seoul.
Maeuntang (매운탕): Anju for soju are often spicy, fatty or both. Maeuntang, a very spicy seafood soup, falls into the spicy category.
Hagfish (kkomjangeo 꼼장어): Possibly the worst-named aquatic animal in English, the hagfish is an eel-like creature whose flavor I frankly do not appreciate–but we tried it stir-fried as anju in this pojangmacha (포장마차) on a wintry trip to Yeosu. Similar spicy stir-fries are also often served with soju.
Intestines (gopchang 곱창): Gopchang, the intestines of pork or beef, is usually stir-fried or grilled, sometimes with a spicy sauce. As with many types of food, gopchang can be found throughout Seoul, but there’s still a specialty district–in this case, the area around Wangsimni Station (왕십리역), which is where I first tried it. Some love ’em, some hate ’em, but with offal coming back into vogue in many places, gopchang is worth a try.
Ramyeon (라면): Some people, including my husband, think ramyeon makes an excellent anju for soju. He made this batch on a poorly-timed trip to Jeju-do, when we were stuck in our hotel during a tropical cyclone.
First published May 10, 2016. Updated November 16, 2017 (romanization changed to Revised Romanization).
Resident Korean food and drink expert, aka my husband.