Going to Dinner in Seoul, South Korea

Choosing a Restaurant

Choosing a place to have dinner in Seoul can be either an extremely difficult, or very simple task depending on how decisive you are because the streets are literally lined with endless options. While walking down any main road or side street you pass tens of dozens of Korean BBQ restaurants, grab-and-go wholes in the wall, and dine in service restaurants. Most places have signs in the windows or stands outside with sneak peaks of their menus and pricing. Additionally, the chance of being offered a menu in English are about 50/50 so you may end up having to pick our your meal by pointing at a picture on the menu. When I first moved to Seoul, I hadn’t eaten red meat in 5 years but I had to give this up on the first day because I usually have no idea what I’m ordering. Fortunately enough, every single entre I’ve ordered so far, red meat or not, I’ve loved it! Another plus is that wherever you go, you are served a plethora of free side dishes called Banchan. These side dishes consist of things such as various types of Kimchi (my favorite,) various types of Namul (나물), and sometimes Bokkeum (볶음) as well.

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Korean BBQ

One of my first dinners in Seoul was an all you can eat Korean BBQ for $10,000won (roughly $8.60usd.) There was a buffet of raw meats, sauces, soup contents, and large leaves or lettuce to wrap your meal in. You fill a plate full of the raw meat then move to a table where there is a stovetop shared between you and 4 others to grill the meets on. Fair warning that whenever you leave a Korean BBQ restaurant, your clothes will definitely smell like you had them on the stovetop with the meat you were cooking. Not all Korean BBQ places are all you can eat and not all are cheap but that’s part of the fun in trying new things or choosing a specific place to frequent. The best part about the Korean BBQ is that you are usually eating a large variety of food, which is good, if you are going to dinner with people that don’t necessarily want to be eating the same foods as you.

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Dine-in Restaurants and Paying

The first trick you need to know about dining in at any restaurant in Korea is that most places have a little bell at the edge of the table, which you are expected to press for service; if you don’t press this button, your waiter will not pay any attention to your table. Another tip is that chopsticks, spoons, and napkins are found in a little drawer that pulls out from the side of your table; so don’t be confused when they aren’t brought to you. Finally, most places are self-serving for water, or they give you one water jug per four people, with 4 very small tin cups. In some restaurants you are able to order your own entre dish, but I have noticed that, more often than not, you order one large entre per 2-4 people and given small plates to split the dish on your own. This is not easy if you are a picky eater, so be ready to try foods that look and taste like things you’ve never planned on trying. Additionally, when you pay at the end of your meal, they give you one check about 80% of the time and your party is in charge of putting the cash together on its own, or having one person pay on a card and having everyone pay that person back.

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Drinking at Dinner

Drinking at dinner is a huge part of the Korean culture; honestly drinking in general is a huge part of the Korean culture. The alcohol that is most often consumed here is a distilled beverage made up of ethanol and water, called Soju (소주). One soju and one large beer are shared between four people, served with small glasses for the beer and shot glasses for the soju. Soju also comes in a variety of flavors such as pineapple, blueberry, grapefruit (the most popular,) apple, lemon, pomegranate, and others. I personally prefer the flavored soju because the regular or “fresh” flavor kind of just tastes like slightly watered down vodka. A tip to remember while drinking at dinner in South Korea is to never pour your own shot of soju and not to let your neighbor pour their own either, if you want to fit in with the local culture. Also, if you are planning on drinking at dinner, or your party is planning on drinking at dinner, the bill at the end is still being split exactly evenly so you better keep up with everyone drinking around you at the table or else you’re paying for your friends to over indulge on soju without you.

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Article by Rachel from the U.S.A.

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