Musing: Korean Dining Rules

I love eating out. I adore walking into a restaurant where I have never been before, scouting out the best seat and analysing the menu for the most appetising items. It’s the thrill of the unknown. Even in Korea, where I am potentially the only foreign face to grace their establishment that week (or perhaps even longer), I enjoy trawling for the best restaurants.

However, there is a certain off-putting aspect to Korean dining, and that is the rules of eating. I enjoy experimenting with my food in order to combine the best tastes and textures, but it often feels as though there is a set of unyielding regulations for eating Korean food, (ironically, this country also boasts a bizarre array of snack flavours and pizza toppings). There have been multiple occasions where the restaurant staff have instructed me on the correct order to put the food into my mouth. Admittedly, there have been times when I’m faced with something obscure, and I am grateful for their interruption. However, when it comes to basic Korean food that I regularly consume – and I don’t always comply with the rules – the altercation can be a little frustrating. After it feels as though the waiters are closely watching me to ensure that I eat correctly, and I feel concerned that my refusal to comply is rude. 

My Korean friends have also informed me on how to correctly consume food when we go out for dinner. Recently, a friend told me that the chilli spice on the table was for one of our dishes, but not another. When I questioned her on this idea she told me that the spice only complimented one of the meals. I tried it with both and I beg to differ, which leads me to ask who creates these regulations, and why are they continuing to be enforced?  

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