Soju is one of the most popular distilled alcohols in the world. The harsh rice spirit is distributed to about 80 countries worldwide, and its relatively low price makes it accessible to all. But, it's almost exclusively consumed in its native Korea.
Such is the abnormality of soju: Koreans love it, the rest of the world pretty much unanimously agrees that it's awful.
But there is a mystique and allure to the little green bottles. In Korea, their consumption at a table is part of a sharing ritual, and the manner in which the drink is poured asserts Confucian's rules onto the diners. Soju is a complicated business, and getting it wrong could mean accidentally insulting your superior.
Obviously between a group of non-Korean eaters and drinkers these rules hold no consequence. But they're fun and will certainly entertain your waiter! So here's a breakdown of how to order, pour, and drink this stuff properly!
How to Order
It all tastes like shit, so just get whatever they have.
If you really want to sound like you know what you're talking about, say "Soju han-byung joo-sae-yo." (Could I order one bottle of soju please?)
Order some beer to go with it. It's for the best. We recommend OB if you have the choice, but take Hite if it's all they have.
How to Open the Bottle
Surprise, surprise, there's a ritual to opening a bottle of soju. You should first give the bottle a good swirl. Doing this should send a little bubbly tornado through the bottle whose wispy purpose isn't rightly known. You should then bash the bottle's base against your elbow, crack it open, and then jab the neck with your fingers spread.
Consult this video from Undercover Chris. But please stop short of drinking from the bottle. You should never do this.
How to Pour
An older member of the group will most likely hand you a shot glass. You should always accept a glass with two hands. In Korea, it is a showing of respect to accept anything from a person of seniority with both hands.
He will pour the shot for you. You do not pour yourself a drink at a Korean table.
When you drink, turn your head to the side and avoid eye contact with the person that poured it for you.
For the first drink, you should shoot it. You might find that everyone is shooting every drink (such is the Korean way), but it's okay for you to sip your soju if you want to. But the first one should be dropped in one shot.
When your glass is empty, hand it back to the person that poured a drink for you and pour them a shot. This will start a series of glass and bottle passes around the table. The first shot follows a strict ritual. After that it's relatively simple. If you see an empty glass, offer to fill it.
Koreans love drinking games. A table in full swing will be loud and boisterous. Given the intricate social pressures that are so prevalent in Korean dining, drinking games are a way for everyone to have fun and relax a little.
Here is PSY to explain a number of soju-based drinking games:
NOTE: Drink plenty of water. This stuff is no joke. The hangover is wretched.