Ok, this is post is a bit of a cheat. Korean BBQ was one of the first things I tried when I came to Korea and I’ve had it frequently since. Before I arrived, I was mostly eating vegan and vegetarian food so this was a big change for me. I will write about restricted diets or lifestyle choices somewhere else so I will avoid talking about being a vegetarian in South Korea right now.
Korean BBQ is on the most famous things to eat in South Korea and you can see them almost everywhere. They are all pretty similar, although the cuts may vary from place to place. Some place have a specialty, such as beef or pork, so it is worth doing some research before you pick a place. Some offer all you can eat. Saying that, I generally just pick somewhere that’s full and seems popular. Is this a good way to pick? Probably not, but with limited Korean skills it’s often the only option!
I generally end up at the same places, as I can be a bit anxious about food making me sick (I have the world’s weakest stomach.) The main reason I end up at Korean BBQ is how social it is. With the meat cooked in the middle, it is a tapas-style way of eating.
What to Do
When you arrive, you should take your coat off! The smoke and smells gets into everything, not pleasant! The seats usually have removable lids and serve as storage spaces. You will be asked to choose your meat and cut. As an ex-vegetarian, I tend to sit this out. It is also usually in Korean so make sure you have Google Translate on your phone! You will then be given an array of sides, which differs between restaurants. It is generally garlic cloves, lettuce and perilla leaves for wrapping, seaweed soup, kimchi, salads, and sauces.
The staff will then bring out the meat, and set up your BBQ. Depending on where you go, they may or may not cook the meat for you. Often, it is up to you to turn and cook the meat. Lots of people enjoy this hands-on approach. I find it somewhat stressful, my mind just jumping ahead to food poisoning! If you are unsure if the meat is ready, you can ask the staff and they will usually help you.
Once you’re meat is cooked, you can eat! Obviously you can eat it any way you want, but the traditional and most popular way is to make wraps. I usually BBQ some garlic, then wrap it in lettuce with some rice and salad. I can’t stand kimchi so tend to avoid it!
Depending if you’re are partial, beer is always on offer. I mean, beer is always on offer in Korea! As well as beer, you can partake in some traditional Korean soju, a bit like sake.
If you find yourself in Korea, you will most likely find yourself in a Korean BBQ. They are on almost every street corner and are a cheap way to enjoy some Korean culture.
Have you tried a Korean BBQ? What did you think?