Food is an important part of the travel experience, but ordering food in a foreign country can come with its challenges.
Here's a round-up of must-know facts about getting food in Korea so that you can avoid unwanted surprises and enjoy your dining experience to the fullest.
It’s no secret that Koreans love heat.
What might be spicy for a Danish traveler, may not at all be spicy for a South Korean.
So, when you’re ordering that “Mild” Tteokbokki, keep in mind that it’s mild for Korean standards (unless you're dining at a restaurant catered towards tourists).
If you want a tteok (rice cake) dish that’s not spicy, try Gungjung Tteokbokki instead.
Koreans love meat and seafood, and the majority of Koreans do not have dietary restrictions or food allergies. Because of this, you may notice that some "senior" restaurant owners struggle with accepting special requests from foreigners. It's just not in our culture, yet.
So if you don't eat pork or you're vegan, this is for you.
Even if it doesn't say 'meat' in the name of the dish you're ordering, it's highly likely that there is some form of meat or seafood in it. And that’s the case whether you're ordering Korean food or Western food.
Kimchi Fried Rice?
There’s probably bacon in it.
Ham is a mandatory ingredient in a classic kimbap.
It just means that the wrapper is made with potato. Dumpling fillings are generally a mix of ground pork, tofu, glass noodles, and vegetables.
Bacon for sure.
White Chicken Pizza?
Possibly ham, bacon, or both.
In summary, it's safe to assume that there's pork in every dish.
Moreover, dried anchovies are commonly used to make soup broth or enhance flavor in some dishes.
And in case you didn’t know, kimchi is made with fish sauce, salted shrimp, and or raw fish.
Restaurants will state that it’s vegetarian or vegan friendly if the dish is truly meat and or dairy-free. So be sure to be explicit when ordering your food and mention your restrictions! Not all restaurants in Korea are accommodating to swapping out ingredients, but they will leave out the pork if you ask for it.
We’re all garlic girls here.
It’s an important seasoning in most Korean dishes. So if you don’t like garlic, this is a fair warning for you.
Korean cuisine only requires chopsticks and spoons for eating. That’s because most foods are prepared in bite sized pieces. And if anything does need cutting, it’s usually done with chopsticks, or with a pair of scissors.
So when you order Bibimmyeon (spicy cold noodles) or a large plate of Jeon (savory pancake), don’t be surprised by the giant scissors served with your food!
As someone who doesn’t like strawberry jam in savory sandwiches, I felt like this was worth a mention.
Koreans love playing with sweet and salty flavors. You'll know what I mean if you've tried the chips here. So if you’re like me, this is for you. It could be ketchup, but it could also be strawberry jam.
If you’re Italian or accustomed to simple pizzas, don’t be alarmed.
Korean pizza shops take their pizzas to another level. Perhaps it’s because of Korea's obsession with nutrition, pizzas are loaded with a whole lot of toppings. It’s not uncommon to find pepperoni, ham, bulgogi, shrimp, jalapeno, paprika, corn, olives, potato, and sweet potato all on one pizza. You can also choose to have your crust stuffed with cheese, cream cheese, and sweet potato mousse.
If that’s not your cup of tea, not to worry!
There are also amazing brick oven pizzerias that make authentic Italian pizzas.
Follow along for more tips and guides to eating in Korea.
Bon appetit !
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