Eating in South Korea: How to Order Food in Korean
Have you ever wanted to order Korean food like a pro? Have you been to Korea and struggled to communicate with the restaurant staff? If so, we've go the perfect solution for you. This article will teach you everything you need to know when ordering Korean food, from asking for a menu all the way to paying the bill. Furthermore, we will cover many of the cultural elements of ordering food in Korea that may be unfamiliar to someone visiting for the first time. By the time you finish studying the content of this page you will open your world to a thousand new flavours and experiences. Happy eating to you all and be sure to contact us to let us know if we helped you!
We will start by covering the most useful language to learn when visiting a restaurant. For more general language to learn when travelling in Korea check out our useful phrases page.
1. Booking a Table 테이블 예약하기
Booking a table can be intimidating but it is the first step in the process to mastering this situation in Korean. Seat in Korean is ja-ri / 자리 and to book is ye-yak-ha-da / 예약하다. To book a table you also need to say how many people will be attending. For example if you want to book a table for three people you can say "se sa-ram ja-ri-lul ye-yak-ha-go ship-o-yo / 세 사람 자리를 예약하고 싶어요". If you're walking into a restaurant hoping to get a table straight away you will be asked "myeot bun-i-se-yo? / 몇 분이세요?" upon entry. This means "how many people?" and you can respond with the correct number followed by myeong-i-yo / 명이요 e.g. se myeong-i-yo / 세명이요- three people.
2. Getting Served 서빙 받기
Getting served in Korea can be challenging if you're not used to it. Many restaurants (sik-dang / 식당) are bustling and loud so attracting attention can be difficult at the best of times. In order to let the waiters know you need assistance you can call out "jeo-gi-yo / 저기요"(literally translating to excuse me). In smaller restaurants you can also say "sa-jang-nim / 사장님"(owner).
3. Asking for a Menu 메뉴
Menu in Korean is essentially the same in English - "메뉴판 me-nyu-pan". If you say this word alone the waiters will understand and bring you a menu. However, it's more polite to say "me-nyu-pan ju-se-yo / 메뉴판 주세요" - Please give me the menu.
4. Asking for the Price 값을 물어보기
To ask the price of anything on the menu or on display, you can say "eol-ma-e-yo? / 얼마에요?", which means "how much?". This is often helped by pointing at or describing the thing you want the price for. For example, if you want to know how much something costs, you can say "i-geo eol-ma-e-yo? / 이거 얼마에요?".
5. Ordering Vegetarian 채식 주문하기
Ordering vegetarian can be difficult in Korea as a lot of the dishes contain or are flavoured with meat. However, most places do offer vegetarian options if you ask. To ask if there is a vegetarian menu available you can say "chae-shik-men-nyu iss-eu-se-yo? / 채식메뉴 있으세요?".
6. Dealing with Allergies 알레르기
Allergy in Korean is "al-le-leu-gi/ 알레르기". As an example, to tell someone you're allergic to peanuts, you can say "ddang-kong al-le-leu-gi iss-eo-yo / 땅콩 알레르기 있어요".
7. Asking for Cutlery 날붙이류
In most Korean restaurants you can find chopsticks (jeot-ga-rak / 젓가락) and a spoon (sut-ga-rak / 숟가락) in a box. In Western-style restaurants "po-keu/ 포크" (fork) and "na-i-peu/ 나이프" (knife). To ask for any of these you can use the same process as asking for a menu e.g. "po-keu iss-eu-se-yo? / 포크 있으세요?" - Do you have a fork?
8. Asking for the Bill 계산서를 내기
So you've finished your meal and you want to pay the bill. To do so simply find a waiter and say "gye-san-seo ju-se-yo / 계산서 주세요" and they will either bring you the cheque or let you know where to pay.
9. Saying Goodbye 이별하기
As you're leaving the restaurant you may hear one of several things. Howver, service staff will usually say "an-nyeong-hi ga-se-yo / 안녕히 가세요" (goodbye). To reply politely you can simply say "gam-sa-hab-ni-da, an-nyeong-hi gye-se-yo / 감시합니다, 안녕히 계세요" - thank you and see you again.
While knowing the language is incredibly useful, there are also a number of cultural conventions to be aware of when ordering food in Korean, in Korea or otherwise. Understanding these can help you come across as polite and catapult your understanding of Korean language and etiquette to new heights.
1. Attracting Attention
If you've ever travelled to Korea and tried to order food in a bar or restaurant, you may have found it particularly difficult to attract the attention of the person serving you. This is something many foreigners struggle with as serving staff are often used to being called over. Unlike in the UK, it isn't considered rude to shout for service and if you don't do this you will have to wait a really long time to get served. The best thing to do is call out clearly enough for them to hear you.
2. Before eating
Before enjoying a meal, Koreans often say the phrase "jal meok-gess-seub-ni-da / 잘 먹겠습니다" meaning I will eat well. This literal meaning may be confusing to non-Korean speakers, but it is simply a polite way of showing manners, a sign of thanks.
Whilst we are used to tipping in the UK, Korea has a "no-tipping" culture. It can be seen as a rude gesture and can be mistaken as a sign of arrogance and pity. Unless there's a sign which states that it is fine to do so, it's best not to tip.
4. Drinking Alcohol
Drinking alcohol is a big part of business dinners and family reunions in Korea. ”So-ju/ 소주” is a favourite but other drinks such as wine, beer and whiskey are also common to have with a meal. It is important to know that if you are with elders, you should pour their glasses first in order of age. When pouring a drink, make sure that you place one of your hands under your pouring arm to show respect and prevent any spills. When receiving a drink, you should also place both hands on the glass. It is also important to know, when you are drinking among elders, make sure to drink facing away from them and use your hand to cover the glass. As with any country, be careful not to drink too much!
Another striking thing to be aware of when ordering food in Korean is the use of the word please. In English we use this word a lot, especially when requesting things. However, when ordering food in Korean it's often better to be direct. In English we might say "please can I have a bowl of noodles?", however, in Korean you can simply say [what you would like] + "ju-se-yo / 주세요". For example, to ask for some water you would say "mul ju-se-yo / 물 주세요".
6. Complementing the Food
As with most cultures, it's an extremely high compliment to have your food praised. It not only shows friendship and gratitude, it also exhibits a willingness to try new things and involve yourself in somebody else's culture. Food and hospitality are both very important parts of Korean culture and showing your gratitude for these things will be very well received. To say something is delicious you can use the phrase ”mas-iss-eo-yo / 맛있어요“.
Now you have all the tools you need to order food in Korean you need to go out and practise! We know this can be intimidating but it is important to remember that people will respect you for trying to communicate with them in their language. As long as you are polite and show you are trying they will be patient with you and help you learn what you need to know.
For more help mastering this situation and others, you can book some Korean lessons with one of our teachers. We also run tons of cultural experiences so you might find yourself at an authentic Korean restaurant before you know it!