When learning a new language and culture, one of the most intriguing things to explore is its take on food.
And if you know anything about the world of Korean cuisine, you’ll know that the spread can be simply mouthwatering.
If you’re going to travel to Korea to get an authentic taste (pun intended) of the culture, then you’ll want to make the most of your time—and your dining experience.
The restaurant setting is a perfect place to practice your Korean.
Eating out amps up your cultural immersion and lets you practice your Korean reading, listening and speaking skills. As great as learning resources like textbooks and online courses are in supplying you with knowledge, true practice comes from utilizing that knowledge in the real world.
So, take it as an opportunity to not only scarf down some delicious food but also boost your experience with the language.
Soon, you’ll be eating and speaking just like the locals!
How to Order Food in Korean Like a True Local
Basic Dining Etiquette in Korean Restaurants
There aren’t many unique rules to ordering in Korean restaurants.
For the most part, formality and politeness, as usual, are expected and welcomed, so it’d be good to be comfortable with formal versus informal Korean phrasing.
One thing you’ll want to know when you’re in Korea is that tipping for most services isn’t expected, so what you see on the receipt at a Korean restaurant is all you’ll need to pay.
As always, familiarizing yourself with authentic Korean through the videos on FluentU is a great way to prepare for any real-life interaction with natives. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
And if you happen to be dining in the company of Korean natives, good luck trying to split the bill! That’s casually known as “Dutch pay” in Korea, and it’s customary for one person to pay for everyone regardless of how much was eaten. It’s a sign of politeness and friendship, although attempts to foot the bill can become quite aggressive, so don’t be alarmed if you see a party of people having a tug-of-war with the receipt at their table.
Korean Foods to Know
One of the best things about Korean cuisine is the colorful assortment of 반찬 (ban-chan), which means side dish. Expect a bunch of free side dishes when you didn’t ask for any, but don’t be intimidated by how many little plates of food are set on your table!
You should definitely try a bit of each side dish, but chances are you might not know what some of them are. Here’s a quick list of common side dishes you can expect:
김치 (kim-chi) – fermented vegetables
The almighty staple of any Korean meal, kimchi has strong cultural significance and is already promoted in international cuisine. The most popular ones are made of cabbage or radish, but all variations are marinated in rich spicy seasoning. You’ll likely get more than one kind; some of the more common types are:
- 배추김치 (bae-chu-kim-chi) – cabbage kimchi
- 깍두기 (kkak-du-gi) – chopped radish
- 총각김치 (chong-gak-kim-chi) – whole radish kimchi
- 오이김치 (oh-ii-kim-chi) – cucumber kimchi
나물 (na-mul) – vegetables or wild greens
나물 is a broad term, but in the realm of side dishes it refers to vegetables or plants that are seasoned with sesame oil, vinegar, garlic or soy sauce. Some can be quite rich in flavor, while others are simple and refreshing. There’s plenty of variations, but here are a few:
- 콩나물 (kong-na-mul) – seasoned soybean sprouts
- 시금치나물 (shi-geum-chi-na-mul) – seasoned spinach
- 가지나물 (ga-ji-na-mul) – seasoned boiled eggplant
전 (jeon) – pan-fried pancakes
These crispy snacks can easily become addicting. In fact, 전 can appear as its own meal. There are different kinds with different ingredients, including:
- 파전 (pa-jeon) – scallion pancakes
- 김치전 (kim-chi-jeon) – kimchi pancakes
- 해물 파전 (hae-mul pa-jeon) – seafood and scallion pancakes
볶음 (bok-keum) – stir-fry
These can get quite filling if eaten in large quantities, so make sure you leave room for your actual meal! You can get a taste of some unique flavors depending on the sauce and ingredients used in the stir fry.
- 오징어채볶음 (oh-jing-uh-chae-bok-keum) – stir-fried squid
- 멸치볶음 (myul-chi-bok-keum) – stir-fried anchovies
- 호박볶음 (ho-bak-bok-keum) – stir-fried zucchini
Must-know Phrases for Ordering Food in Korean
Phrases for When You’re Preparing to Order
여기요! (yuh-gi-yo) – Over here!
A quick shout of this should get the attention of a passing waiter. That’s their cue to come straight to you.
_____ 명이에요. (_____ myung-ee-eh-yo) – There are _____ people.
When you enter the restaurant, you may either be approached by a worker who will ask how many are in your party before you get seated, or you may seat yourselves.
메뉴 주세요. (meh-nyu joo-se-yo) – Please give me the menu.
While some restaurants may have the menus already on the table, you may need to ask for it yourself at times. There’s oftentimes a separate menu for drinks besides water as well.
뭐가 맛있어요? (mwo-ga ma-shi-ssuh-yo) – What is delicious?
Let’s face it: Choosing something from a menu is hard. Ask this to your waiter to make choosing your meal a little easier—you can trust their judgment.
얼마에요? (uhl-ma-eh-yo) – How much is it?
Most menus will have the prices listed, but some places might choose not to for whatever reason. This can also occur for exclusive items. Make sure you know how much you’re paying before you order it!
Phrases for Ordering and Eating Your Meal
이거 주세요. (ee-guh ju-se-yo) – Please give this. / I’ll have this.
Short and simple. Just point to the dish on the menu and say this, and you’re all set. If you want to say the name itself, just say it and follow up with 주세요. This also goes for when you need something else after you’ve already gotten your requested meal.
_______ 일 인분 주세요. (________ il-een-boon ju-se-yo) – Please give one more serving of ________.
It’s highly likely that you’ll want another serving of something, whether it’s another Korean barbecue pork set or another plate of a side dish.
Notice in this phrase that the number one isn’t 하나 (ha-na), which is the native Korean way of saying it. Instead, for this phrase, you’ll be using the Sino-Korean numeric system to say 일 인분 (il-een-boon).
So, if you want two servings, you would say 이 인분 (ee-een-boon), three servings would be 삼 인분 (sahm-een-boon) and so forth.
_______ 더 주세요. (________ duh ju-se-yo) – Please give more of _______.
If you don’t want to use the previous phrase or forgot your Sino-Korean numbers, then you can just use this phrase above. It’s simpler, shorter and gets the same point across.
Korean Phrases for Making Special Food Requests
채식 메뉴 있어요? (che-shik-meh-nyu ee-ssuh-yo) – Do you have a vegetarian menu/dishes?
채식 means vegetarianism. Luckily, there are just as many delicious Korean vegetarian dishes as there are meat-based ones, from hearty stews to rice or noodle-based meals. You’ll have no problem finding one on the menu that will catch your eye.
안 맵게 해 주세요. (ahn-mep-geh heh-ju-se-yo) – Please don’t make it spicy.
It’s no secret that Koreans love spicy foods, so it shouldn’t be surprising if some dishes end up being a bit too hot to handle. There’s no shame in making this request to the server—sometimes, the spice really can become overbearing.
저 _____ 알레르기 있어요. ( juh _____ ahl-leh-leu-gi ee-ssuh-yo) – I am allergic to ______.
It’s critical to describe any allergies you have at a dining establishment. Speak this phrase and fill in the blank with whatever you’re allergic to. Here are a few common options that might be relevant to you:
- 땅콩 (ddang-kong) – peanuts
- 우유 (woo-yoo) – milk
- 달걀 (dal-gyal) – egg
- 조개 (jo-gae) – shellfish
Phrases for When You’ve Finished Your Meal
계산서 주세요. (geh-san-suh ju-se-yo) – Please give the bill.
It’s highly likely that your table will be stuffed with plates, both from the side dishes and the actual main course. It’s inevitable that you’ll still be nibbling on whatever’s left. Make sure you let your waiter know when you’re finally finished!
카드 받으세요? (ka-deu ba-deu-se-yo) – Do you accept credit cards?
Many establishments in Korea only take cash, so it would be wise to carry a decent amount if you’re traveling in the country. If the restaurant you’re eating at only accepts cash payment, the waiter may say 현찰만 받아요. (hyun-chal-mahn ba-da-yo), which means “We only take cash.”
따로따로 계산할게요. (dda-ro-dda-ro geh-san-hal-ge-yo) – Please split the bill.
Like we mentioned before, beware of asking this when you’re dining with Korean natives!
이거 포장 돼요? (ee-guh po-jang dweh-yo) – Can I take this to-go?
You’ll most likely have a good amount of leftovers. Korean meals are known for being hearty. Spare no delicious crumb and make sure you take whatever’s left!
잘 먹었습니다. (jal meog-uh-sseub-ni-da) – I ate very well.
This is an essential phrase that’s spoken at the end of any meal in any setting. It expresses that you genuinely enjoyed the meal and is taken as a sign of respect to your food provider and your dining mates.
The next time you hop into a Korean restaurant, you’ll want to use your mouth not just to chow down on delicious food, but also to talk and engage in an authentic conversation.
Put these phrases to good use so that you’ll leave happy with both a full stomach and successful practice of your Korean language skills.
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