Unlike American dining, which is typically more laid-back and casual, Korean dining is a bit different, and the customs are an essential part of what can be seen when dining out. Here's a list of things you can expect!
Sharing the Table with Others:
Get ready to cook and share your food surrounded by other Korean locals! It’s typical that when you dine out, you won’t have a table all to yourself. It’s easier to fit more people into a space by setting up multiple groups at the same table, and even if you’re by yourself, you might end up sitting next to a group. In that case, be polite, and try not to interfere with others at the table with you.
Communal Side Dishes:
If you’re in a group, be prepared to share dishes with the other people at the table. Many bowls of banchan, or side dishes, are put on the table for everyone to share with the meal. Be mindful when eating the banchan because there are rules that go along with eating them. However, the rules are fairly simple: if the side dishes come with their own serving chopsticks, don’t put them back after you’re finished with them. If they don’t come with their own chopsticks, you can use your own.
You probably didn’t think there were rules when it came to having rice at the table, but there are two very important rules to follow. First, it is never acceptable to leave your chopsticks sticking out of the bowl of rice when you’re not using them. In the Korean culture, leaving chopsticks sticking out of a bowl of rice is part of a ritual for deceased relatives, so it is considered very rude if no one around you has passed. Unless you want to receive glares and rude looks, put your chopsticks in a more respectful position.
Second, instead of using chopsticks to eat rice, it is more common to use a spoon. This is not only for efficiency, but also because in Korea, it is rude to bring your rice bowl up to your face when eating from it. Even if that means you don’t end up eating all of your rice, leaving some behind is still better than raising your bowl off the table.
This not only applies to eating out, but eating in as well. Many dishes in Korea are big enough for a family. It’s easier to cook bigger portions rather than trying to scale the original recipe down for a single person. Not only does this allow for more food, but it brings families closer together by allowing them to eat together and interact with each other through food. If you’re out dining with a group, be prepared to share the main dish with everyone. You will almost always share the main dish with people at the table instead of just getting one dish for yourself.
As you can tell, dining in Korea is a bit different than in the United States, and after understanding more of the Korean culture, it’s easier to understand the ways of dining out! If you’re ever in Korea, be prepared to see and even experience these different things that will be a part of your experience in the country.