When in South Korea, eating authentic Korean delicacies is like a ritual. Learn how to eat the local Korean cuisine like locals! The vast number of local restaurants dispersed all over the country makes Korean cuisine easily accessible to tourists, even first-timers.
However, if you want to appreciate the true essence of Korean food, you need to behave like a local. It will also aid in better acclimatization to the restaurant setting.
Start right from the moment you step inside a typical Korean restaurant and continue until you leave.
Here’s what to do.
Unlike Western restaurants, most local Korean restaurants do not have a dedicated host or hostess for every table unless the eatery is completely full. So, if a seat becomes available, you are welcome to take it.
Waiting for a waitress to attend to you is pointless because, most of the time, it won’t happen. So, first, search for a button on the table. Press it if you can locate one; it should do the trick.
If that’s not the case, you can simply call them, just like the residents do. Just say 저기요 which translates to Excuse Me in English. The staff does not take offense to it as long as you are not yelling at the top of your voice.
While conversing with the waitresses, you can address them as Unni/Eonni 언니 meaning elder sister or Emo 이모, which is the term for aunt. Take it easy; most ladies do not care what you call them unless you are being disrespectful.
Once you have placed the order, it is time to find the utensils. They are usually placed on the table inside a covered box. Lay a napkin and arrange them. This is a custom that the locals follow to ensure whatever they are eating is hygienic.
It’s not that Korean eateries lack cleanliness. It merely provides an extra layer of security.
However, if you cannot find the cutlery, don’t panic. They may be kept neatly inside a drawer, so look underneath.
Sharing is a very frequent practice in South Korea, so do not get startled to see individuals sharing dishes or cooking pots with one another. It’s true it is a little funny considering how hygiene-conscious Koreans are, but they have big hearts and love to share their food.
However, just be a bit mindful and use a clean serving spoon while exchanging food with the Koreans.
That being said, if you are not comfortable with it, don’t fret; others will still tolerate you. Simply request a separate plate (ap jeobshi – 앞 접시) and take what you require.
Locals drink water after completing the entire meal. This is due to their perception—which is accurate, by the way—that consuming too much water while eating interferes with the digestive process. Also, they drink only a little after meals, probably just a sip or two.
However, nothing is a mandate, and if you get extremely thirsty, you can drink to your heart’s content. If you do not get a water container at the table, simply look around for a water cooler and “self-serve” yourself.
Pay Upfront and Don’t Tip
At most eateries, the staff mark what you ate and leave the check ready at the table. Find the bill, take it to the front entrance and pay while exiting the restaurant.
Refrain from tipping unless you notice a tipping jar. This is because Koreans usually view tipping as impolite.
Enjoy your meal and eat the cuisine like Korean locals!
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