Everyone’s gotta eat, right?
Korea has so many delicious foods, with an abundance of restaurants in which you can order. In a lot of restaurants, you’ll find that menus are mostly or entirely in Korean. Similarly, in restaurants owned worked by older Koreans, you’ll have to rely on your Korean skills in order to get a meal.
So, in this blog post, I’ll be going over probably the most important topic for someone visiting Korea: ordering food in a restaurant.
Things to look for on the menu.
When it comes to more traditional or standard Korean restaurants, you will usually find the menu split into several different sections. Usually, there will be a meat, seafood, and soup section with other sections for rice and drinks.
고기 [ko-gee] meat
해물 [hey-mool] seafood
찌개 [chi-gay] soup, stew
밥 [bap] rice
음료 [eum-ryo] drinks
It’s important to know these umbrella categories of food because you’ll be able to narrow down your choices even if you aren’t completely sure what the rest of the menu says.
Being polite is never out of style.
In Korean, whenever you want to ask for something, you usually will just say the word for that “something” followed by the phrase for “please give me.” In restaurants, this is also how you order. Let’s look at an example.
Bibimbap, which I talked about in this post, is a Korean traditional dish and, if you wanted to eat it, you would order like so:
비빔밥 주세요. [bee-bim-bap ju-say-yo]
Now let’s break that down.
비빔밥 [bee-bim-bap] Bibimbap
주다 [ju-da] To give
~세요 [say-yo] Polite verb ending
In Korean, there is a word that carries the weight of “please” and can be paired with the aforementioned 주세요, doing so making the sentence slightly more polite to the listener.
좀 [chom] Please
However, it’s important to note that this is not used with most phrases when ordering, but more so when you’re asking for a little bit of something or more of something. The most common way of using it in a restaurant setting is to ask for water.
물 좀 주세요. [mool chom ju-say-yo] Can I please have some water?
For our vegetarians and vegans.
Recently, there have been many restaurants, especially in Seoul, that have been opening up to specifically serve a vegan and vegetarian clients, but they tend to be few and far between. While in most Korean dishes you won’t be able to avoid meat or meat products (even meat-free stews are prepared with a seafood broth) there are quite a few dishes you can order without meat and meat products.
If you would like to stress that you don’t eat meat, check out the phrases below.
저는 고기 먹지 않아요. [cho-neun ko-gi mok-chi-an-ahyo] I do not eat meat.
저는 채식주의자예요. [cho-neun che-ju-oo-eee-ja-yay-yo] I am vegetarian/vegan.
As you can see, there really isn’t a separate word for veganism and vegetarianism, which makes it a lot more difficult for our vegan friends out there to eat safely in restaurants. My best advice would be to find out the words for some ingredients and follow it up with a request to not put that in the dish. Let’s take a look at an example.
우유 넣지 마세요. [oo-yoo neo-ji ma-say-yo] Please don’t put in milk.
우유 [oo-yoo] milk
계란 [gey-ran] egg
부터 [buh-teo] butter
넣다 [neo-da] to put in, include, add
~지 마세요 [ma-say-yo] negative verb stem
Now, often times more than not, the workers at restaurants will be able to take out bigger things like meat or eggs, but not smaller things like milk and butter. An unfortunate reality, so it is better to prepare for options that might not be available for vegans.
This is just a scraping of the surface for restaurant ordering etiquette in Korea. If you would like a more in-depth look with some more examples, I would highly recommend you check out the video by SweetandTastyTV below.
It is always beneficial (and polite!) to understand the basics when it comes to ordering at restaurants in a foreign country. By using these basics, you’ll have a more comfortable and easy time when it comes to ordering at a restaurant in Korea.
What are some of the difficulties of ordering in restaurants that weren’t covered in this post? Are vegan and vegetarian options widely available where you live? Let me know in the comments below!