Tuesday, June 21, 2011

6.21.11 How to Get Food in Korea, Part II

Earlier we gave you the run-down on some different kinds of Korean restaurants - now it's time to get to the eatin'.

First thing to do when you walk in the door: scan the room rapidly until you locate an employee, then sing out a nice loud, "Anyong hasseyo!" in their direction. If you can't see an employee, just say the same thing, but louder - someone will usually emerge from a back room. This rule actually applies to any store you enter, not just restaurants. Koreans are a friendly people, and their convenience store employees and waiters generally object to being treated like part of the furniture (this is especially interesting when you cinsider that Korea is a country in which tipping of any kind is usually considered an insult).

Next, find a table. Unless you're eating at an expensive restaurant, you're expected to seat yourself. If you choose to sit at a traditional low table, there is often a little pile of cushions near the wall. Take one and get comfy.

There's either a menu already on the table, or a waiter will bring you one. If it has some English on it, you're in luck! If it's not, look at the walls - lots of restaurants post yummy-looking pictures of food to inspire the appetite, and you can point at what you want and tell the waiter, "Chogo jom jusseyo" (please bring me that). No English and no pictures? Then it's time to play what I call the "The Point at Something Random in the Menu" game. Linus prefers to call it the "I Pointed at WHAT?" game. Just try not to accidentally order anything too expensive.

Don't wait for the waiter to come to you. If you want to order, just raise your hand and say, "Yogiyo!" ("Here!") or "Shillehamnida!" ("Excuse me!"). Some restaurants even come equipped with a little button on the table, which when pressed will automatically summon a waiter, no shouting and gesturing required.

Once you've given your order, you can get your water and silverware. Chopsticks and spoons are located in a box on the table. Water is usually self-service. Look for an office-style water dispenser next to a UV sterilizer full of little metal tumblers. If you are brought water, it's generally in a big bottle, which is nice because you'll have to refill the tiny metal cups about three times during your meal (or, if you're like Linus, you should just sit right next to the water cooler).

After you've ordered, side dishes will be brought to your table. No matter what else comes, there will always be mat (cabbage) kimchi. If you're like us, you'll become a connoisseur of kimchi in a matter of days - I prefer mine spicy, juicy, and with enough fermentation to sizzle a little in the mouth. Also frequently offered are various kinds of fermented radishes, fermented radish tops, small salty fish, a variation on coleslaw with disturbing pink dressing, corn, clear soup, boiled fish paste (much tastier than it sounds), fermented tofu, acorn tofu, dried fruit stuff, bean sprouts, little sausages, sweet pickles, noodle-things, and if you're really lucky, the best, freshest fried eggs you've ever had.

If you spill on yourself while stuffing all this deliciousness in your mouth, you'll need to get your own napkin. Napkins come in dispensers, like tissue. Sometimes these dispensers are on the table, but sometimes they're on the wall, on the other side of the restaurant, and you have to get up and go get one, which can be kind of embarrassing when you've just splattered kimchi all over your white skirt.

Since Linus dumped all the photos of food, I don't have any pretty illustrations for this post. So, um, here is a cute Korean girl.


  1. lol! VERY cute Korean kid. :) Thanks for sharing your adventures. It's so fun to read about how things are so different in other cultures. I think I would like it there, with the no tipping thing (tipping for anything other than a sit-down dinner always confuses me, and it seems like these days everyone in America expects a tip for everything!). And I'd LOVE to have a button on the table to summon the waiter. Seems like they always either show up when my mouth is full or interrupt me when I'm in the middle of a sentence. :)

  2. Yes, the no tipping thing is amazing, and they also figure in tax in advance so the price on the tag or menu is exactly what you pay. It makes me wonder why US retailers insist on the $1.89 thing - just say $2 and stop stocking all that change!