Eating Like a Local: 9 Korean Dining Dos and Don’ts Every Tourist Should Know
Here’s to dining gracefully and respectfully
by Edgardo Toledo | November 01, 2023
South Korea might be known for giving us K-pop megastars and swoon-worthy Korean dramas, but its culinary scene is an equally fascinating world that can make your taste buds dance. There are countless dishes to try, from sizzling bulgogi and spicy kimchi to comforting bibimbap and crispy, addictive Korean fried chicken.
With that said, it’s a good idea to brush up on Korean dining dos and don’ts to avoid any playful raised eyebrows from the locals. Read on for our Korean table manners guide:
1. Say, “jal meokkesseumnida!” (I will eat well!) before eating.
Before you dive into that hearty Korean meal, Koreans typically put their hands together and say, “jal meokkesseumnida” (잘 먹겠습니다) out loud. Although it roughly translates to “I will eat well,” this phrase also conveys appreciation to whoever prepped the delectable feast on the table.
2. Elders first. Always!
Much like many other Asian countries, Koreans hold much regard for loving and respecting their elders. Wait for them to pick up their chopsticks and start eating before getting yours. If you’re the senior on the table, take your cue and don’t keep everyone waiting.
3. Don’t pour your own drink.
No matter the occasion, drinking liquor is a staple of South Korean get-togethers because Koreans believe it brings people closer together. Before drinking the night away, pour drinks for others first, then let someone else do the honors for you.
4. Use both hands when passing and serving
When passing dishes, and glasses, or pouring/receiving drinks, always use both hands. This shows respect and also avoids spills.
5. Use the utensils properly
Koreans usually use chopsticks and spoons when eating. Use one utensil at a time to avoid spilling food. Spoons are your trusty sidekicks for soups and rice, while your chopsticks are for everything else on your plate, okay?
And as for those chopsticks, please, don’t stab your rice – this makes them look like incense at a funeral, so it’s a no-no! Instead, place your chopsticks to the right of your plate on the table or on the chopsticks stand.
6. Pace yourself
We get it. The delectable spread on the table has your mouth watering, and you want to savor every dish. But you’re not in an eating marathon. Don’t eat too slowly because that’s like a shady way of saying the food sucks. Don’t be too fast either or people might think you can’t wait to leave the table. If you’re eating with a group, try to keep the same pace as everyone.
7. Avoid making excessive or unnecessary noises
Although this is a given, you can savor your meal without being a nuisance to others. Don’t serenade the table with loud chewing noises, or do it with an open mouth because Koreans may perceive this as rude behavior.
8. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Wasting food in South Korea (and in general) is a big no-no. Avoid overindulgence and opt for what you can comfortably finish. Doing that shows appreciation for the cuisine and minimizes food waste.
9. Tipping isn’t necessary
Korea has embraced a tip-free culture for generations, and it’s safe to say they want to keep it that way. In fact, one survey showed that seven out of 10 Koreans see tipping as “unacceptable.” Instead of tipping, a heartfelt “thank you” is always appreciated.
Once the meal’s over, don’t forget to say thank you or “jal meogeotseumnida” (잘 먹었습니다) to let the host know you enjoyed the food.
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