Korean Dinner Etiquette: The Do's and Don'ts
Whether you're meeting parents, coworkers, or even just friends, here's a quick rundown of Korean dinner etiquette before you make a fool of yourself.
by Jasmine Edwards
This week, I'm bringing my friends to my favorite local Korean restaurant. They have never been to a Korean restaurant, nor have they ever tried authentic Korean food. Since I'm all about exposing my friends to different cultures, I'm making our gathering a fun educational dinner date, where I can teach them all about Korean food, culture, and table manners. Below are some helpful tips for anyone new to Korean etiquette!
Respect your elders! If you are eating with older people or elders, make sure they are seated before you sit down. Also, do not eat or drink before them - the first bite goes to the oldest! You WILL enjoy this meal. ? It is polite to say Jal-mukae-sumneda (잘 먹겠습니다), or “I will eat well” before you eat. The phrase is a term of respect towards the host who prepared the food, or to the person joining you in the meal. Make sure to thank the host when the meal is over. You can say Jal-mukeo-sumneda (잘 먹었습니다), or "I ate very well!" when you're finished eating. Do not leave the table until the elder has finished eating their meal. And if you are a fast eater, you should slow down a bit! It is rude to eat quicker than everyone else, especially your elders. Make sure to pace yourself when you are eating, and maybe make some more small talk! Here are a few more helpful Korean etiquette tips:
- You might be hungry and just want to dive in. However, you must taste soups and stews before trying any rice and side dishes.
- Make sure not to eat with your eyes. In other words, do not place more food on your plate than you can eat.
- Sharing food is encouraged in Korean culture!
- Double dipping is frowned upon.
- Unlike Japan and China, the spoon should be used to eat the rice, not the chopsticks (although most people nowadays don't really care).
- You are allowed to take food from the communal bowl and place it on a smaller plate for you to eat. A communal bowl is a bowl that holds food for everyone.
- Make sure not to leave food on your spoon.
- Make sure to return utensils to their original position when you are finished using them.
- Do not stick chopsticks upright in the rice bowl, as this symbolizes an offering to the dead.
- Do not lift a bowl of rice or soup as you are eating from them (unlike Japan or China).
- When passing bowls and drinking from glasses, make sure to use both hands to show respect.
- Never serve yourself alcoholic drinks. It is polite to refill others' drinks and allow them to refill yours.
- It is considered rude to refuse alcoholic drinks. If you don't drink alcohol, simply pretend to drink (and throw it under the table if it's at a restaurant. LOL I didn't say that).
- Do not blow your nose at the table.
- In most cases, the oldest or the sunbae (선배) pays the bill.