the banchan is my favorite part
August 25, 2012 11:26 AM   Subscribe

I've been enjoying eating at restaurants in LA's Koreatown that cater to a mostly Korean crowd. Please help me figure out how eat politely, or at least not rudely.

I have one specific question:

- Banchan: Do people usually eat it alone? Mix it into food, like a condiment? Something else? Also, is it considered rude to eat it alone and/or mix it into your food?

And one general question:

- Is there anything I need to know to avoid being rude? For example, I have heard that in Japanese restaurants, you never pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks, because that's part of a funeral ritual.

I don't really care if the waiters or other people in the restaurant can tell that I'm not experienced with Korean food, or think I'm odd, but I would prefer not to do anything offensive.
posted by insectosaurus to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You know about the buzzers for table service, right?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:49 AM on August 25, 2012

I eat at a Korean place that caters to a Korean crowd quite often and last time I was there the server actually came up to me (nicely) and told me that I shouldn't leave my chopsticks standing up in my bowl of rice because it represents death (I don't normally do that anyway, but I left them there for a second to check something on my phone.) So yeah, don't do that.
posted by primalux at 11:53 AM on August 25, 2012

Banchan are side dishes which are usually eaten alone, though you can mix them in your main dish if you like.

If you're in LA I wouldn't worry about it, but if you were in Korea (or want to be as Korean as possible): don't give/accept items using one hand; you use two hands or even clasp your elbow with the opposite hand. You should always refill your elder's drinks (with two hands), and never reject anything offered to you by someone older/more senior than you at the table.
posted by toerinishuman at 11:58 AM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't mix banchan into other things. Eat them on their own, maybe with a bite of rice. If you want to mix things, get bibimbap (which Koreans eat with a spoon).
posted by WasabiFlux at 11:59 AM on August 25, 2012

Typical banchan are not meant to be eaten on their own. They are considered accompaniments to rice. The main components of a Korean meal as eaten at home are rice and soup / broth / stew. If you have that, that is the minimum basis for a meal, and banchan are extras - in practice, you will have 3 to 5 banchan. The more lavish the meal, the larger the number of banchan.

So the typical Korean way to eat most banchan is to have a spoonful of rice and a bit of banchan. Some banchan may require being mixed into part of your rice. Some side dishes can be eaten on their own without rice, but these are not typically referred to as banchan.
posted by needled at 12:11 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I grew up eating the banchan with rice. Sometimes mid meal with a little rice wrapped in lettuce to mix things up. I doubt anyone will notice in a restaurant how you eat it! Te people in the restaurant will just be happy you are eating it!
posted by Swisstine at 12:37 PM on August 25, 2012

If you have to blow your nose, get up and go to the bathroom if you can. If you must at the table, try to be as quiet and discreet about it as you can and then throw the tissue in the trash immediately afterwards.

Don't set your chopsticks down to the left of your spoon or leave them crossed on the chopstick rest.

Unlike in China and Japan, lifting the rice bowl off the table up close to your mouth to eat out of is considered a bit vulgar in Korea, though I doubt that in K-town many people will be like mortally offended or anything.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 12:41 PM on August 25, 2012

- Banchan: Do people usually eat it alone? Mix it into food, like a condiment? Something else? Also, is it considered rude to eat it alone and/or mix it into your food?

Here's a previous question asking Is the fact that I really like eating the banchan more than the meal at my local Korean restaurant looked at as odd? [...] I am wondering if they think of it the same way I would if someone came into my (imaginary) restaurant and really, really liked eating horseradish and relish. There's a wide range of responses there that should be useful to you.
posted by Elsa at 12:53 PM on August 25, 2012

It depends on what the banchan is. A lot of the common dishes are salty or pickled or otherwise strong-tasting, and it's common to eat those with rice*. Needled has it right--you wouldn't generally dump your kimchi into the rice bowl and mix it up, but it's common to pick up a piece of kimchi and put it on top of a spoonful and repeat.

* As far as politness goes, I do remember that my mom used to chide me if I started in on kimchi or whatever without rice, but I think that was probably less of a cultural-taboo-thing and more of a mom-thing (I loved salty things when I was a kid and would do gross things like eat salted butter or instant curry blocks straight out of the fridge.)
posted by kagredon at 1:38 PM on August 25, 2012

Korean culture is pretty forgiving about eating (drinking has um some etiquette, though). A few pointers:

- banchan is bottomless, yes, but it's not your meal

- don't leave your chopsticks sitting in a bowl.

- don't blow your nose. Sniffle all you like, but if you have to blow, go to the hwajangshil (bathroom)

- use a spoon, not chopsticks, for your rice

- DO NOT get any of your rice in a communal bowl (via spoon, for ex)! It really seems gross to Korean people.

- if eating with older Koreans, don't leave ANY rice in your rice bowl, even a grain.

- don't lift your bowl to your mouth (that's Japanese stylee) unless it's to drink the soup after you've eaten the noodles (naengmyeon or kimchi mari guksu, for ex)

- if you're eating with Koreans, don't go for the last bite of anything. Leave it there and even insist someone else take it (esp. someone older)

A few booze principles:

- if you don't want another drink, don't finish the one you have. If you finish your drink, someone will fill it

- if you're drinking with someone older (or a stranger, or someone "higher" than you in some kind of hierarchy, like a boss or sth), pour their drink with two hands and use two hands to hold your drink when they fill it

- if you're drinking with someone MUCH older or of g'parents' age, turn to the side/away when you drink

- if you spot someone with an empty cup, fill it

- if your cup sits empty for a bit and you're around peers or younger people, it's "funny" for you to pretend like you have to leave. Then they'll notice your cup and laugh and fill it and hey fun times

- if you order soju or baeksaeju or another "little bottle" of Korean booze, slam the bottom of it with your elbow to make a popping sound before you open it

I've been in Korea for ten years and have eaten approximately every day. I won't tell you how often I've drunk.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:00 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

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