Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Korean Food Culture

Food sharing culture in Korea

When I first arrived to Korea, I was surprised and honored by how the kids at school gave me some of their food after knowing me for only 5 minutes.  They'd share their candies, chips, and other snacks during break time as if I was already in the group.

I've since found out that, they weren't just being nice, they were being Korean.  Everyone shares food with each other.  If you're out picnicking on the hiking trail, you'll let the folks on the nearest blanket have some of your chicken.  In class, while we ask nicely, your food is my food, and mine is yours.  In a beautiful free for all, the individual snacks are spread among the group.  One girl will open up her chip bag and ritualistically dole out the 3 chips per person.  She might keep a few extra for herself, but everyone gets more or less a fair share.

I see this easiest at dinner out in the restaurants.  My friends and I will go out for samgyeopsal or for galbi, and the restaurant will bring out the main dish on a large pan.  We all pull from this pan with our chopsticks and share everything as a family.  We usually don't even have our own plates, and when I do happen to get one, I usually don't use it or I forget I have it.  The food just goes from the pot to my mouth.

They call this "family style," but this way of eating shows a closer-knit sharing than I have even with my American family back home.  We'll bring out the large dishes, but we'll pull from those and take the food to our plates before munching down.  Korea's style took some getting used to, I admit to that, but now, not only do I find the philosophy endearing, I prefer it this way.

And, no, I don't worry about germs at all anymore.  I'll be wary of what foods the kids give me because I don't know when their grimy hands were last washed, but at the big people table, we put our spoons into the same soup bowls and sometimes drink from the same cup.

And I love it.

P.s: Check out this post for a look inside a Korean galbi restaurant!


  1. That sounds wonderful! My family does get their own plates, but if we are out at a restaurant we steal food from each other, so having your own plate doesn't always mean much.

  2. :) I love when everyone knows that it's second nature, it's completely acceptable to snitch and share like that.

  3. Anonymous28 June, 2012

    I've always wondered what effect, however inadvertent, this kind of communal style of eating has on obesity and health. Sharing food seems to curb the desire to overeat (at least for me) because I don't want to be "that guy" that turns into a food vacuum at the table. It seems there some mild social pressure not to shovel all the food you can into your head. One of the many reasons Koreans are on average slimmer than Americans?

    Anyway, good luck with your open classes. Yes, there are good things in the world and it will soon all be over. Your classes--not the world. And I'm just visiting America, actually. I'm coming back for another tour of duty in August.

  4. Hey! Thanks for the article! I shared a link to this post on one of my recent articles "What to Watch Out For In Korea." I linked it at the "Sharing" part. By the way, I also love it :)


    1. Thanks for the link back, Natalie! I love Korea to bits, and I love your post on things to watch out for. (Ajummas ARE scary, and when they were nice to me, I feel like the most special person in the world!)

      I just took a glance at your blog, and I'm excited to read more of it in the future. Keep up the great travel posts!


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