A traditional meal in South Korea is boiled rice and a few dishes also contain meat or fish. Due to the busy lifestyle of the South Korean people and changing consumer tastes, consumption of alternative meal options, like fast food, bread and noodles, have increased and in many cases replaced rice. Many South Koreans try to follow a healthy diet by reducing their consumption of carbohydrates and increase the consumption of protein and vegetables of high qualities. The effect is that the amount of rice that most South Koreans eat per day today has remarkably decreased. Because of long working hours and longer journey times, people do not want to spend too much time on cooking or eating breakfast at home. Many families cannot manage to eat dinner together during the week. South Koreans use chopsticks with a twist, those chopsticks are made from stainless steel. The South Korean chopsticks are shorter than Chinese ones, but longer than Japanese chopsticks. For chopstick learners, these are thin and slippery sticks; they are not the best to practice with in the beginning. If chopstick learners can eat with wooden or plastic chopsticks, they will manage with some fumbling. If visitors feel uncomfortable eating with chopsticks, it is possible to ask for cutlery. In many habitual households, young children were taught that it is impolite to speak during mealtimes. It is possible to experience complete silence while eating. During military service that young South Korean men must perform, there are only very short mealtimes, and as a result of that, people, mostly men, use mealtimes to eat quickly and move on to another thing even after finishing their duty in the army.
There are a few etiquette rules to observe when eating with a South Korean. The most important thing in the South Korean culture is, to have respect for elderly. Therefore, if a younger person dining with someone who is older, the younger person should wait for him or her to sit and to start eating, and also remain at the table until the older person has finished eating. When the food arrives, one should firstly taste the soup or the stew and then try the rice and the side dishes.
One should not lift any plates or bowls off the table while eating; South Koreans think that is rude. Chopsticks are not to be left sticking upright in a dish, especially in rice. The same goes for a spoon sticking upright into a bowl of rice, this is impolite. Soups, stews and meat dishes are frequently served in a large shared dish instead of individual servings. South Koreans believe that sharing food from one bowl makes a relationship closer. South Koreans are careful to not leave any traces of food on their spoon, and at the end of the meal, the chopsticks and spoons should be returned to their original position.
Authors: Thao Ha & Megan Wieling