Everything you need to know about Korean food (and drink), but were afraid to ask.

This is a guide for foreigners, it is not intended to be a definitive reference to all types of Korean cuisine nor is it aimed at people who won't venture outside their hotels.

If you don't like rice, don't come to Korea!

1. A gentle introduction.

Most people's first venture into local food comes with work collegues, either Korean or non-Korean who have been here a while. Koreans who have worked with westerners mainly understand our tastes and will try to avoid things which are unpaletable (eg Sea Cucumber - a sort of giant sea-slug which tastes of nothing in particular but has the texture of ...).

Korean dining is a very social affair with many meals consisting of a central cooking device be it a barbecue, wok or soup pan surrounded by a multitude of side dishes (some of which are not for the faint-hearted) with an individual bowl of sticky rice per diner (in the west we concentrate on getting our rice light, fluffy and separate, Korean rice comes as one lump!).

Many restaurants are the traditional floor-seating type, the floor is heated and once you get used to sitting cross legged (just like when you were at school) are quite comfortable. The other thing about restaurants is that they each specialise in a few types of food so you need to find the right place for the food you want. It is however OK to look in a restaurant, read the menu and then leave if it's not what you want.

There are a number of meals suitable for the unaccustomed western palette.

I mentioned Kimchi earlier, this is a traditional Korean food. Kimchi comes in many varieties, probably more than we westerners have varieties of cheese. The usual type consists of cabbage which has been fermented along with hot paste (odd that eh?) and a myriad of other things and kept for an indeterminate time in a large earthenware pot. Despite the odd manufacturing process it is strangely delicious and is mildly addictive. Try it!

2. The demon drink.

Koreans like to drink! (that is probably the biggest understatement on the Web).

Until very recently the major alcoholic beverage consumed in Korea was a lethal brew called Soju, beer is now overtaking Soju in the popularity stakes. Soju is available everywhere, even the smallest shops (around 6 feet square) keep a good stock and every good Korean has at least some in his refrigerator. Even drinking the best Soju available you can get totally blasted for W5000.

Like gasoline Soju comes in various grades:-

Korean beer is all "lager" type beer, there are currently no "dark" beers manufactured in Korea although there are several being imported, currently only canned or bottled dark beers are available.

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