Dining Out

Korea is filled with endless amazing food options, and most traditional foods incorporate relatively familiar ingredients like seafood, tofu, chicken, pork, and beef for proteins, as well as root vegetables, salad greens, cabbage varieties, garlic, and onions. From street food vendors to world class restaurants, there’s something for every taste bud. While Western and European-style food options are common, there are some popular dishes that are synonymous with South Korean cuisine. Don’t forget that banchan (small side dishes) are served alongside each meal, similar to appetizers.

Galbi (갈비): Commonly called “Korean barbeque” this will be unseasoned or marinated meat, typically short ribs, that is grilled in the middle of your table. You can grill it yourself, or often a hostess will grill it for you. Galbi is eaten by itself or as a “make it yourself” lettuce wrap with garlic and sauces.

Bulgogi (불고기): Thin slices of beef marinated in sweet spices and flavoring. Once marinated, it is grilled and served, similarly to galbi.

Samgyeopsal (삼겹살구이): Essentially a very thick strip of pork belly, similar to uncured bacon. Cooked on a tabletop grill or served already grilled/baked/boiled, you eat it with an assortment of side dishes. You want to get the full flavor of the meat first by just dipping it in a little salt. Then, try it with kimchi or garlic. A popular way for Koreans to eat samgyeopsal is wrapped in lettuce (called ‘ssam’).

Korean Fried Chicken (Yangnyeom-tongdak / 양념통닭): Fried chicken is incredibly popular and its unique “extra crispy” reputation comes from double-frying with a rice-based flour. When ordering you will have many sauce options to try, and it’s common to mix flavors to try both at once.

Army Stew (Budae-jjigae / 부대찌개): Food was very scarce throughout the Korean Peninsula during the war, so many Koreans would receive smuggled leftovers from American soldiers. They would take whatever ingredients they had and put it all into a stew called budaejjigae, or “Korean Army Stew”. While ingredients vary based on region, and ordering additional toppings like noodles, rice cakes, and cheese is common, expect a thick soup with spicy, savory broth, kimchi, Spam, beans, and sausages.

Ginseng Chicken Soup (Samgyetang / 삼계탕): Commonly eaten during the hottest days of summer, this flavorful soup is often regarded as an energy-boosting meal. The soup features a small chicken stuffed generously with rice, ginseng, garlic, and jujube in a clear broth with vegetables and rice cakes.

Gimbap (김밥): A seaweed rice roll made of rice wrapped in thin dried seaweed, with a wide variety of fillings to choose from. Classic ingredients can include carrot, eggs, spinach, and cucumber, with proteins like tuna, imitation crab, ham, or egg. These convenient “grab and go” snacks are found in all convenience stores and street markets, and range from $2-$5 each.

Bibimbap (비빔밥): Bibim (비빔) translates as “mixed,” and bap (밥) means “cooked rice,” since Koreans often mix it all together before eating. This “all in one” rice bowl typically has an assortment of seasoned vegetables, fried egg, and is often served with a spicy red pepper paste. Add the paste gradually and taste it to make sure it’s to your liking.

Tteokbokki (떡볶이): Tteokbokki is a popular Korean street food of chewy rice cakes (tteok) cooked in a savory and spicy red broth and mixed with cabbage, fish cakes, and boiled eggs. It’s a popular Korean street food. You may also see Tteokbokki made with black soybean sauce or curry sauce.

Sundae (순대): Sundae is a Korean steamed sausage made with beef or pork. While this may seem like one of the more challenging Korean foods among foreigners, Koreans love it.

Note: You may wonder how to know what to expect when you order a soup with “guk”, “tang”, and “jjigae” in the name. Typically, “guk” has a thinner broth with simple ingredients, “tang” is a thicker broth and ingredients are cooked longer, and “jjigae” has a much thicker and heartier base broth with lots of ingredients, very similar to a stew.


  • Most Korean restaurants specialize in a certain type of food, so you may see just a few things on the menu. Often, menus are shown in pictures on the walls or outside the restaurant
  • Korean restaurants typically serve meals “family style.” This means that purified water, side dishes (banchan) and the entree will be brought to the table. Everyone serves themselves from the table dishes. The side dishes are free of charge and can be refilled. If you don’t know the name of a specific side dish, you can simply point and say “이거 더 주세요”[i-geo deo juseyo], which means “please give me more of this.”
  • The standard silverware at a Korean restaurant are stainless steel chopsticks and spoons. They’re usually found in a box or a drawer underneath the table. If you need a fork, don’t be afraid to ask. Scissors are provided to cut meat or noodles
  • Table service is good, but don’t expect it to be overly attentive. Most restaurants have a button on the table to call a server over. If not, just use the phrases in “여기요”[yeo-gi yo] or “저기요”[jeo-gi yo], which means “excuse me.” You will hear other customers saying the same
  • Tipping is not a custom in Korea. Servers may feel uncomfortable receiving a tip because they are paid a salary, and because it also implies that they require money on the side to provide good customer service
  • Most Korean restaurants only serve soju and/or domestic Korean beers, two of the most popular types of Korean alcohol. Some establishments may only sell a specialized type of alcohol-for example, unrefined rice wine is often consumed with Korean-style pancake restaurants
  • In most restaurants, simply take your bill (or just yourself) to the computer station, usually near the entrance, to pay on your way out.

Restaurant Recommendations

There are a lot of great restaurants around the region. Ask your friends and coworkers for recommendations, be sure to try them all!