Korean cuisine

Korean cuisine is exquisite. Whether it’s your chimaek - spicy fried chicken with cold beer served casually - or a traditional dinner at someone’s home, you can expect bold yet comforting flavours. But no matter where you eat, it’s extremely important to follow proper dining etiquette.  

Politeness

Being polite is an important part of Korean culture. If you are eating at home, make sure you take off your shoes. When dining as a group, particularly as a guest at someone’s home, wait to eat until the eldest guest begins to eat. While eating, avoid rushing to make sure everyone is eating together and enjoying themselves. Don’t leave food on your plate at the end of the meal, except for rice; rice is a staple in Korean meals, but it’s not expected to finish every single grain served to you.

 Korean Bibimbap

Acknowledgement

Part of being polite is showing respect and honour to your host. If you are invited as a guest to dine in someone’s home, say that you are excited to have the meal before it begins. At the end, be sure to thank them for the meal.

Table manners

Your utensils will be chopsticks and a spoon - no fork, no knife. It’s important that your chopsticks and food do not end up on the table. If you need to put down your chopsticks, do not lie them across your bowl - doing so is reminiscent of part of an ancestor ceremony. And do not rest your chopsticks directly on the table; create a ‘table’ for them or lean the ‘mouth’ end on your plate. If you are eating soup or rice from a bowl, do not bring the bowl to your lips, as you would in some other cultures.

Chopsticks etiquette

Drinks have their own set of customs as well. If you want to refill your glass, refill others’ glasses first, especially those of guests who are more senior than you. If you are offered alcohol, it is rude to refuse it. Remember to pace yourself to stay responsible! And if someone offers to pour you a drink, hold the cup with both hands as you accept it.

Alcohol etiquette in Korea, photo by Graham Hills

Restaurant Dining

It’s common to eat at shared tables. In this situation, you are not expected to actually eat together. Act as if you were seated at separate tables, unless everyone wants to chat together as a group. At the end of the meal, you won’t be expected to tip. But if you feel obliged to do so, 5% is appropriate.