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Korean food is quite spicy and distinctive. Although sometimes distressing at first, most Westerners end up really liking it and missing it after they leave. A big lunch can be had for 4,000 won and a complete dinner for 8,000 won per person.

Kimchi "Kimchi" is an essential part of every Korean meal. It is made by fermenting cabbage, red peppers, onions, garlic and other spices. Frequently eaten as a accompaniment to the main mail, it is a common ingredient in many other dishes as well. There are, literally, hundreds of kinds of Kimchi; there is even a Kimchi museum in Seoul, complete with regularly scheduled kimchi-making classes for foreigners.

Korean Peppers in bowls Korea is not explicitly vegetarian-friendly; however, many common dishes are made by combining pre-cooked ingredients and it is easy enough to ask that meat or animal products not be added to most dishes. There are also many traditional Korean side dishes made of vegetables, oil and spices, and noodle dishes, that are free of animal products.

Many Koreans think that their food is the hottest on earth and that non-Koreans will not be able to eat it. Sometimes restaurants will assume that Westerners would prefer a spice-reduced meal. This isn't surprising since what Koreans know of Western food is mostly McDonalds and Pizza Hut. If you are with Koreans when you order, ask them to be sure your meal is made with the same spices as everybody else's (unless you'd prefer it with less pepper). Korean food isn't that hot. In general, it's milder than many Thai, Mexican, and Indian dishes.

Larger centers offer a variety of Western restaurants like TGI Friday. In Seoul, it is possible to eat any kind of food you like, though sometimes at a price and a distance! American fast-food restaurants can be found almost anywhere in South Korea.

Korean food is normally eaten with a combination of metal chopsticks and a large metal spoon. Even Asians from nearby countries find the metal chopsticks difficult, though they are good for stabbing at bits of food with. Rice is normally eaten with a spoon — easy. After a few years in Korea, I moved to Taiwan, where I dazzled Taiwanese with my ability to manipulate metal chopsticks effectively. They complained that Korean chopsticks were impossibly "heavy".

Korean eating habits are not particularly dainty, so you needn't worry about appearing indelicate when trying to get food from your bowl to your mouth. All necessary means are acceptable! When eating, enthusiasm (with accompanying grunts, and even the occasional snort) is appreciated and it is bad manners to leave food on your plate, especially at a private home.

Sharing from common plates is normal. Don't be surprised or offended if Koreans happily grab at your lunch when you bring it back to work and settle in to eat it at your desk. Do the same to them yourself, and/or buy more than you want and you'll be fine.

Korean Side-Dishes Koreans are known throughout Asia for their heavy drinking. In fact, when I was in Korea from '96-'98, all the ATMs stopped working at 10pm on the premise that without access to cash, drunken fathers and husbands would make their way home in good time for work in the morning. Beer is popular and generally cheap. The flavor and strength is similar to American beer and it's sold in bottles and is on-tap in pubs, called "Hofs" (presumably from German). One sometimes unwelcome difference between pubs in North America and Korea is that food consumption is almost always required. It's not outdated liquor laws, but rather local tradition and proprietors' profits, that are at the root of this. Expect to pay at least 10,000 won for some probably-unwanted "side dish" when at the pub. A co-worker and I used to frequent the same pub in our neighborhood and we used to simply give the owner 5,000 won instead of ordering food. The beer itself is quite cheap — as low as 2,500 won per pint.

Soju is the local firewater. It is sold in 350ml bottles and has between 24 and 28 percent alcohol. It tastes a little like sweet vodka and it is amazingly cheap — under 1,000 won a bottle. Try mixing it with fruit juices. The premium brands (costing 2,000-4,000 won per bottle) are also okay straight up, especially along with a spicy meat dish. Like wine, a bottle (or three) of soju is often shared at dinner.

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