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Table of Contents

Food

            Ah, the food. One of the most wonderful things about living in Korea is its cuisine and unique dining experiences. It offers taste, healthy choices, and is generally inexpensive. Dining out and ordering in is so cheap that many foreigners elect not to cook at home often. If you do, however, you can eat even more cheaply, and have a fun time exploring a Korean supermarket while trying things out.


            Korean food is spicy. Of course, there are many mild dishes as well, but it is the dominant theme. Even if you generally avoid spicy dishes, it is still probable that you will come to adore them, and eventually seek out the heat even after your return home.


            Also, if you like seafood, you’ll love Korea. Seafood seems to occupy a large portion of any Korean menu, as there are dishes from the sea that you may never have considered. Don’t fret if you’re not a fan. There are enough non-seafood choices that you could not eat the same dish twice over months without ever going near any seafood.


            The staples of the Korean diet include rice and kimchi (김치), a spicy side dish served with virtually every meal. Kimchi is cabbage that is soaked and fermented in a spicy, saucy mixture for days before being served. Sound appealing? Probably not. And you may still believe it after your first taste, but indeed, most foreigners eventually become hooked, and assume eating it with most of their meals, even western dishes. To get an idea of how prevalent kimchi and rice are, and to humor yourself, ask any of your students, any day, about what they have eaten for breakfast, lunch, or supper (it doesn’t matter), and almost without fail, they’ll reply, “Rice! And kimchi!” They don’t seem to tire of the stuff.


            While kimchi is a regular side dish, it is far from the only one. A unique feature of Korean cuisine is the number of side dishes served with any meal. You’ll be shocked to sit down with a friend, order a single dish each, only to quickly find your table covered with several small, round dishes filled with a variety of goodies, from little salads to fish to things you can’t identify. If someone from home were to witness the scene, they might think you and your friend were a couple of gluttons!


            The Korean dining-out experience can be interesting for several other reasons. There are many places where you won’t find any chairs, and instead, you’ll remove your shoes and sit on the floor. While some foreigners might find this uncomfortable, it can be fun, and it is easy to find restaurants with chairs. Commonly, the type of restaurant where you might sit on the floor is one that serves a variety of cuts of meat, to be cooked yourself over a plate of fire in the middle of your table. Many sides will accompany the meat, and it is very delicious, and very popular among foreigners.


            Korean etiquette when dining makes for an event worth getting involved in, even if the food weren’t as good as it is. Sharing plays a big role in Korean culture, and although you may order a dish that is your own, it is common for everyone to pick off of each other’s plates. Many times, there will be meals that consist mainly of community dishes, the meat restaurants, for example, among others. When offering or accepting drinks or utensils, particular rules of etiquette apply. When pouring a drink for someone, for example, you should pour and receive using two hands; usually, one hand on the bottle, and one hand on your arm. Slurping while eating is more than okay, as it shows that you are enjoying your meal. The noisier you are, the more flattered your host may be.


            An area that should please almost any foreigner is that of tipping, or rather, lack thereof. Essentially, tipping does not exist in Korean culture, even beyond dining. This is part of what allows people to eat out and order frequently, and still cheaply.


            Delivery is quite worthy of discussion itself. Can you imagine what the response would be if you called a pizza place or another restaurant at home, and asked them to deliver a four-dollar dish, with no tax, and no tip? You’re right if you said they would laugh at you or hang up. In Korea, however, a delivery person will be quite pleased to bring a single, inexpensive meal to your door, expecting no tip, and what’s more: your meal will be served with non-disposable dishes, which you will set outside your door when you’re finished, to be picked up later. This is all for three or four dollars, although they’re certainly not afraid of larger orders as well.


            So far, we’ve had a lot of fun learning about Korean food, but we wouldn’t want you to get the impression that western food is not available, because it is. It is very available, as there are foreign restaurants abound, including several fast food and family restaurant chains. To name some: McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, TGIF’s, Outback Steakhouse, and Bennigan’s, among others. Indeed, you will not be left missing your western-style meals. You can satisfy a craving anytime.


            Yes, the food is something that never gets boring in Korea. There is enough variety to keep your taste buds curious, and the diversity to accommodate any type of diet. If you don’t pay much attention, have fun eating anything and everything. And if you’re a little more discrete, you’ve got multitudes of delicious, healthy choices.


            To point you in a direction, here’s a short list of some popular dishes among foreigners: 
            Jae Yook Dup Bap (재육덮밥)- spicy pork mixed with rice and vegetables
            Yook Gae Jang (육개장)- spicy beef and vegetable stew, with rice
            Bulgogi (불고기)-“fire meat”; tasty beef to be cooked at your table
            Sam Gyup Sal (삼겹살)- strips of pork to be cooked by you at your table
Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap (돌솥비빔밥)- vegetables, rice, and egg simmered together mixed with a spicy, red paste
Kimchi Bok Eum Bap(김치복음밥)- cooked kimchi and vegetables mixed with rice
Tak Kal Bi (닭갈비)- chicken strips with vegetables cooked at your table in pepper sauce
Sam Geh Tang(삼계탕)- soup with a whole chicken in it, as well as vegetables and spices
            Mahn du (만두)- noodle dumpling filled with meat and vegetables.
            Duk Bo Ki (떡볶이)- rice cakes in spicy pepper sauce
Kimchi Ji Gae (김치찌개)- “Ji Gae” is soup. Kimchi Ji Gae is a spicy vegetable soup with kimchi as the dominant ingredient, of course.
            Ja Jang Myun (짜장면)- noodles and pork in a black soybean sauce
            Tang Soo Yook (탕수육)- sweet and sour pork
            Kalbi Sal (갈비살)- strips of beef cooked over fire at your table
            Dwaeji Kalbi (돼지갈비)- marinated pork strips cooked over fire at your table
            Oh muh rice (오므라이스)- fried rice wrapped in an egg omelet

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