Seoul, South Korea - Typical Korean Restaurants
When traveling overseas you want to really experience the culture of the country you're visiting. However, that can't be achieved if you always patronize the western chain restaurants such as Longhorn or McDonalds.
In Korea there are three types of restaurants that you will usually come across. While there are a myriad of Korean chains you will mostly find some assortment of different types of the same restaurant.
1. Korean Barbeque
Korean barbeque is a staple of the country. You can tell which restaurants they are because pictures of raw meat on plates are taped to the front of the restaurants. Each restaurant has a wide variety of different meats such as pork, beef cheeks, beef leg, beef lips, beef calf, and pork to name a few. Imagine a body part on a cow and they have the meat for it. You will be given about 7-10 different side dishes, which you could look at as appetizers.
The meat is cooked right before you on an open grill on your table with a nozzle attached to the ceiling above it to take the steam away. The waiter will occasionally come over the flip the meet and cut it with scissors. Once it's fully cooked you can either salt the meat and it it or wrap it up in some lettuce before consuming it. Once you're finished they will serve you a nice cup of white rice to cleanse your pallet.
I have to admit this is my favorite type of restaurant. Two months ago I found two within a five minute walk of my apartment. Now, I eat out at them twice a week. They're also incredibly inexpensive. For one person it ranges from 10,000-20,000 won ($8-$15). Which includes all side dishes and a soda.
2. Cold/Warm Noodles
Noodle restaurants are also very commonly. Warm and cold, but primarily cold. Often seafood and meat, as well as spices are included in it. One of the best noodle dishes I ever had was a warm noodle seafood soup with clams in it. There were tiny clams inside that you could pick the meat out of and the noodles tasted like plain run of the mill homemade noodles. It was delicious.
3. Vegetarian cuisine
Vegetarian cuisine is often common. It stems from Buddhist teaching. Bibimbimbop is the most common type. It is a bowl of warm rice topped with seasoned vegetables known as namul and chili pepper paste, soy sauce, or fermented soybean paste. A fried or raw egg is place on top.
Korean sushi as well. These Korean sushi restaurants are the Korean version of sushi, except instead of fish there are vegetables inside. These shops are small and usually only fit 7-10 people and have Korean people making the food right in the front window. One serving could feed 5 people.
Regardless of the restaurant you will find a small, brown, wooden box on each table of every restaurant you visit. It will be filled with spoons and chopsticks. Most restaurants also have napkins and white paper clothes at each table.
While tipping is ordinary for most countries, South Korea is not one of them. If you leave a tip, expect to be chased down the street by a 90 pound Korean lady in her 70’s yelling some Korean gibberish to you in an attempt to return the tip. Yes, that has happened before. Wait service in Korea is phenomenal, they really do deserve it. Pretty much any meals in these types of restaurants range from 10,000-25,000 won ($8-$20). It's even less expensive if you go out with someone and split the tab.
Every restaurant has an assortment of sodas, must usually Pepsi which is referred to as ‘cola’ and soju, a Korean type of liquor that can best be compared to vodka. A white contained of water and small Korean cups are given to each table.
The best part of dining in these restaurants is the homey feel. They are often small and tables in which you sit on the floor. Most often they are run by older Koreans who do all the checking out, cooking, cleaning, and waiting.
If you want an authentic Korean meal, my advice, shoot for the BBQ first!!
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