For my first week or so in Korea, I didn’t cook at home. I’d always go out for supper. It’s so cheap here that it was worth it. For 8000won, I can get grilled chicken with a bunch of appetizers. Good deal.
Eating out in Korea is a completely different experience than in Canada. For example, when you go to the restaurant, unless no one is there, you don’t really get a waiter. You get someone who brings you stuff. Maybe it’s just that I don’t speak the language, but I’ve never seen Koreans speaking to their waiters the way you would in Canada. The customers come in, the waiter takes their order, leaves, brings the food and doesn’t come back unless summoned. To do this, there are little buttons on the table that ring for assistance. If I had to guess, I’d say this is because going for supper is a very social event in Korea. The idea is to eat and talk with your coworkers/friends/family not the employees. That’s not to say that people who work in restaurants aren’t friendly; there’s a restaurant close to my place where I went 3 times in a couple weeks and the two ladies would joke and help me prepare my food. But I was the only one there, so they could have fun.
RESTAURANT TIP: As a foreigner, try restaurants with no one in them. That way you can have more time to order and there’s no pressure or feeling that you’re bothering them. There are so many practically identical restaurants here that even if no one is in it, it doesn’t mean it’s bad.
I asked my Korean friend why there are so many restaurants. I don’t understand how having 10-15 restaurants within a 2 minute ratio with half of them being the same is possible. He says that restaurants are often owned by wives to give them something to do while their husband is out working long hours and earning money. Odd system (by Western standards), but it seems works and it keeps the prices low.
One thing I’ve noticed (and experienced) here is that some places have a restaurant van. I think this is an awesome idea. These vans can drive parties to houses after they’ve had supper (Korean for gotten super drunk). So it’s responsible by reducing drunk driving incidents, it probably provides added incentive to go eat there and the additional person drinking who is no longer driving slightly offsets the vehicle costs.
FUN OBSERVATION: If ever you order a fruit salad here, don’t be surprised to find a cherry tomato in it. I know it’s a fruit and all, but it just doesn’t seem right somehow…