Korean food is becoming increasingly popular, and it really is delicious! Whether you’re in Korea or another country anywhere around the world, going into a Korean restaurant for the first time can be intimidating. A little knowledge can help make sure you have an awesome time and are able to focus on the incredible food without stressing about the details.
What kind of Korean restaurant is it?
Korean food is obviously diverse, and restaurants will often specialize in one or two signature dishes. They also might just be general Korean food, or they might be something like samgyetang chicken soup (삼계탕), gamjatang pork back bone stew (감자탕), naengmyeon cold noodles (냉면), etc. Have a look at what type of food they’re serving and do some research before, so you can be prepared for how it will be served.
One popular type of restaurant is Korean barbecue, often just called samgyeopsal (삼겹살), the name of the pork commonly eaten there. Here, food is always shared, as opposed to 1 serving per person as it might be at other restaurants. Korean barbecue often involves drinking beer or soju (소주) along with the meal. Though pork may be the main feature, depending on the restaurant, other meat and vegetables can be grilled to eat as well.
Sitting on the floor?
Many restaurants in Korea feature only seating on the floor or have both floor seating and an area with tables and chairs. If the restaurant has both tables and chairs plus floor seating, you’ll be asked which you prefer. It’s all about comfort, so feel free to choose what you like best.
If you choose to sit on the floor, there will often be small individual sized mats underneath the table that can be used to make sitting more comfortable. Feel free to look for them, or ask for some if you don’t see them right away.
Menus in major cities in Korea will often, but not always, have some English on them. Food is generally grouped into categories, such as soups, noodles, type of meat, etc. In Korea, the price will include taxes already, so what you see listed is the final price that you can expect to pay when you get the bill. If you’re unsure of what would be best, feel free to ask for a recommendation! This can be done by saying “chu cheon hae ju se yo” (추천해주세요).
The many different side dishes, called banchan (반찬) will all be brought to your table without you having to order them, so don’t worry about needing to ask for them. They are usually unlimited, so definitely ask for a refill of what you like!
Once you know what you would like to order, look for the small red or black bell on the side or corner of each table. In medium and larger restaurants, there will often be an electronic bell that you can use to call a server. This conveniently stops you from having to shout when you need something.
If there isn’t a bell, feel free to call a server in the same way as you would in a Western restaurant. You can also say “over here”, which is “yeoh gi yo” (여기요). Once you are ready to order, you can also say “I will order now”, which is “ju mun hal gge yo” (주문할게요) to get started.
In the next blog we’ll give you more information on what to expect during your meal, paying for your food, and other general tips for going to a Korean restaurant.