Dining out in Korea

I love dining out in Korea! The food is inexpensive, loaded with flavor, and always fresh. It is served with a variety of side dishes that are shared by the entire table. Be sure to be fast with your chopsticks to get your share of the food, because the bill will be evenly divided amongst the table.

The Korean dining experience can be exciting and intimidating at the same time. If youre a fan of spicy food, chopsticks, sitting on the floor and a vast variety of new dishes, you will be pleasantly surprised. Korean food is foreign to westerners and can be difficult to get used to at first; however with an open mind and willingness to explore, even the pickiest eaters will find something to suit their fancy. One thing is for sure, the food brought to your table in any Korean restaurant will be fresh, flavorful, and best of all: inexpensive!

The value you will get for your money is exceptional and the service will likely be the best you have ever received. You can count on having the food delivered before youve settled in your seats and your side dishes refilled at no extra charge. A lunch will vary anywhere from 2,000-9,000W, a dinner from 3,500-15,000W. Water is always offered at the table and beer (mak-chu) as well as sprite (sai-da) or cola are available at extra charge. You will not pay taxes and tipping is unheard of. It is common for staff to get offended at the offer of a tip. Your smile and praise of the food will be payment enough and might have the restaurant owner send you away with some home made kimchi or other delight.

Not only does the food taste GREAT, it is always served moments after you walk in the restaurant. This is not the case at local chain restaurants in Canada, not to mention the additional 30% extra I would pay for tax, and tip.

The best site I can recommend about Korean food is trifood.com.

Korean style restaurant

The overall experience of dining out in Korea is vastly different from that in Canada. For starters the service is simply amazing; as soon as you sit down, your server will take your drink and menu order. Most restaurants specialize in a few menu items, so this is usually decided pretty easily. As you are just getting comfortable; your server will return with water or green tea, warm moist towels to clean your hands, your beverage order and a selection of free side dishes. These side dishes will be unlike anything you have likely ever tried before. They usually consist of vegetables prepared or marinated in various ways or a spicy soup. [link see Trifood.com for details on the various side dishes] You do not choose what side dishes you will receive, but if you happen to finish any of the small dishes, it will be promptly refilled at no charge of course. I would say I like about half of the side dishes. Dont be shy, and try as many as you can!

After sampling some of the free sides, and some makchu (beer) or soju (Korean alcohol), your food will already be on your table. Depending on your meal, it may require additional cooking at your table on a propane burner, or a charcoal BBQ. Watching your delicious meal bubbling in front of you is a great way to get your mouth watering. During your meal you may also get some more service (complimentary food to say thanks for dining here) such as a free bottle of cola, a nice soup, or even a small menu item to try. I promise you will love the service!

Once the food is ready to eat, the entire table will share the main dish (es). You will even order beer or soft drinks by the bottle, and then drink them from your own small glasses.

*Cultural Tip - Always remember to pour your neighbors drink for them, using your right hand and showing the appropriate level of respect depending on the age difference. If you are concerned about germs, I think you will quickly get over it, or you will have a hard time enjoying one of the best aspects about Korea. If this is a huge issue for you, you can always go to Western, Japanese or certain Korean restaurants that allow you to order a specific menu item. Of all the foreigners I know, this is not a concern with any of them.

Koreans use chopsticks for the main dish, but thankfully they use spoons for the rice. I have heard forks are available at many places, but I think learning how to use chopsticks will help you feel more comfortable.

At most restaurants you will have the option to sit on small mats on the heated floor, or to use western style chairs. I strongly suggest sitting on the floor as it will help with the overall experience.

Dans suggestions before you come:

  • Practice using chopsticks a few times if you have only used them sparingly before
  • Practice sitting cross-legged on the floor a few times to help your legs get used to the position. This will help you enjoy your first few meals out with friends that much more.

When the meal is done, the entire table will split the bill evenly. Yes, this means you should get your moneys worth of the main dish (es) as well as the drinks. Try and not let this system of paying get to you. If you mention that you did not have any cola, or that you had only two glasses of beer, it will likely appear picky even to foreigners who have been using the system for awhile. The difference will only be $1 or $2. Mentioning it to Koreans would be considered very impolite. Please note that Koreans tend to eat the food very quickly, and will order more, sometimes without consulting the table.


Western Options

I promise you will feel an urge for a KFC burger, or an Outback steak after you have been here a while. The urges will slowly subside, but these options are still nice as a treat. One thing I do not really like about Gwangju, compared to Seoul, is that there seems to only be higher end steakhouses, or generic fast food chains. I really wish there were more cultural options such as some Thai or Indian food. This is all readily available in Seoul, and to a smaller degree in Busan, but in Gwangju it is not. Considering a normal dinner out at a Korean style restaurant costs $10 for your meal and all drinks, it is easy to see how you can save money by avoiding the Western options.

I will not go into details of the menu items at Western style restaurants because they are chain restaurants. The menus will be slightly different, but basically the same. The main options in Gwangju are Outback Steakhouse, TGI Fridays, VIPS, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, and Pizza Hut.

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