Whether in Korea or the United States, authentic Korean BBQ is absolutely delicious. But, like with all cultures, Korea has somewhat stricter observations about dining etiquette than in places like New York City.
There are some important things to observe when going into a traditional local restaurant or traveling to the country itself.
The Korean dining experience focuses around being with friends and loved ones. It’s about sharing the wonderful flavors of the food among the people you’re with and enjoying the conversation.
Because of this being a social and cultural activity, chowing solo can present some problems. This is due mostly to the sheer portion sizes served at such restaurants. Eating alone may mean having more food you can consume in one meal.
What Should You Order when Eating Korean BBQ Alone?
Depending on where you are in the world, what you should order will vary greatly. Although it’s usually not an issue to eat alone, the restaurant will expect you to purchase the same amount of food as if there were two or more people with you. This means doubling up on meat, soups, beverages, snacks/appetizers and side dishes.
Is It Bad to Eat Alone in Korea?
It’s not bad to eat alone in Korea, but it could make some people look at you a little funny depending on the region you’re dining in. For instance, it may be more acceptable to eat alone in Seoul than it might be in Myeongdong.
Of course, if you’re on a lunch break in Chicago, then chowing down by yourself at an AYCE (or All You Can Eat) is par for the course.
Etiquette for Eating Alone
Regardless of your situation and where you are dining, you should observe some traditional manners and etiquette. If you’re by yourself, it will display an honoring and understanding of the culture. This may go a long way in servers and staff overlooking your eating alone, especially if you plan to drink alcohol.
Once again, it’s not bad to drink alone, but in Korea, you should pour alcohol for others and they for you. This is why it’s better to go with someone else to observe the best dining etiquette in accordance with cultural norms.
There are many nuances to these methods and manners, but here are some of the most important ones for when you decide to eat solo:
- Show a Refined Palette When Ordering: Balance the flavors of your meal by selecting a variety of foods that temper spiciness of the meat with side dishes like rice, soup and cooling veggies.
- Soup to Begin the Meal: Starting with soup or stew does several things. It warms your tongue along with preparing your palette and stomach for the coming meal.
- Use of Cutlery: At a KBBQ, you will have chopsticks, a bowl and spoon for your eating experience. The chopsticks are for dishes, use the spoon for soup and rice and the bowl is for holding rice. Don’t use your chopsticks like skewers for meat or hold it with your spoon at the same time. Don’t stab your bowl of rice either as this is an act done at a funerary ritual.
- Amounts: Portions: Because you’re going to be getting more KBBQ than you will probably be able to feast on all by yourself, only take enough for personal consumption and always keep the rice bowl near to you. Even if you plan to munch on more, don’t hoard or pile the morsels onto your plate. This signifies greediness or a lack of self-discipline.
- Eating Behavior: While savoring the delicious flavors, don’t scarf the food up quickly. Eat in a calm, peaceful fashion and chew your food thoroughly. Also, chew with your mouth closed and don’t make loud oral noises. Yes, it’s delicious, but not all in sundry have to hear it either.
- Use Two Hands: Even though you’re dining solo, always pick things up and set them down with both hands. Things like glasses, bowls and dishes operated with both hands is a sign of great respect. It shows command, focus and self-discipline.
Do You Cook Korean BBQ Yourself?
When you’re at a Korean restaurant, you are the one who would be doing most of the cooking. However, some AYCE Korean buffet restaurants in the US cook the meat for you and serve it on a line to dish yourself up as you see fit.
But, if you’re sitting at a personal grill, note that the grill will go out by itself often, so you will have to relight it from time to time. However, you can ask the server to do this for you. It’s important to note here that you shouldn’t have to ask a good server for help if they’re attentive.
Cooking for One Person
You may see a selection of meats available. These will include beef, pork and chicken. Not all places will offer these, especially in Korea where beef prices are exorbitantly high. Whatever you get, use the scissors to cut your meat into smaller pieces. This will ensure more even and quicker cooking.
When you put the meat on the grill let it sit for a few moments, flip it and let it cook some more. If it’s beef or chicken, turn them over a few times. When it’s pork, just flip it once. Then, push the meat off to the side while you cook other things like kimchi and garlic.
Can You Get Sick from Korean BBQ?
Although it’s not a frequent occurrence, it is possible to get sick from Korean BBQ. But this is true for any kind of cuisine or restaurant. Undercooked meat, especially dishes that use chicken, can result in Salmonella poisoning.
Other than that, it’s usually not something to worry about. The only other way you could get sick is either from spoiled meat or a dirty grill.
If this is a grave concern for you, it’s advisable to grill more pork and beef dishes rather than chicken. That said, even if pork or beef ends up slightly undercooked, you shouldn’t get too ill unless you have a sensitive stomach.
Korean BBQ is not just something you eat, but it is an experience that’s appreciated and enjoyed with friends and family. But, if you must be by your lonesome, there’s really no reason why you can’t. You may have to deal with a few sneers and snickers at first. However, if you observe some important cultural dining norms, they’ll soon subside.
Being mindful about what things you choose to order, use of cutlery, and how much food you pile on your plate are all crucial things to observe. This will be especially true if you plan on eating alone in Korea, where showing respect is imperative. Regardless, going to a Korean restaurant can be an enriching and delicious experience not available anywhere else.