Day 46: The Land of Morning Calm

The word Korea comes from Goguryeo which was the ancient kingdom in the Korean peninsula dating to 37BC.  South Korea is one of the most urbanized countries in the world and yet it is home to many natural wonders.  South Korea is is very technologically advance and has made an impact through K-pop and film dramas.  Whatever you think you know about Asian flavor profiles, forget it.  Korean food has its own unique blend.  Although it is often reduced to kimchi and Korean BBQ, or not the fried chicken craze (both notable food categories in their own right), today, we go to Go Hyang, which means something to the equivalent of "My Home Cooking"  

Korean Culture Tips

Korean culture is hierarchical.  Focusing on age in Korea begins at birth, where newborn babies are already considered to be one year old.  The traditional greeting in Korea is bowing.  Proper bowing happens when two people face each other and with their hands at their sides bow from the waist.  The key to respecting the hierarchical cultural codes is that the younger person bows lower.  This is done without looking, and, to the outside observer, it would appear that they employ some kind of sonar.  I have intentionally tried to "out bow" a Korean friend, and without looking he beat me.  I clearly have a lot to learn.  This system of status and age can be a beast for kids in school who are expected to respect their elders even when they are only a grade level above them!  

Table etiquette follows the hierarchical patterns.  Priority is given to the oldest and the youngest is there to assist everyone.  In the Korean BBQ experience, where everything is ordered à la carte and grilled at the table, it is the obligation of the youngest person to do the cooking for the rest of the table.  Allow the oldest person to sit first and be served first.  When serving a drink to someone older than you, place your free hand under the pot (or bottle, or picture) or under the elbow of the arm holding the tea pot.  When in doubt, wait for the oldest person at the table to act first and then follow along.  

As in many other Asian countries, be careful how you use your chopsticks.  Do not stab them into your rice, use them as pointers, or drum them on anything.  Remember that many dishes at the table are considered communal dishes and the common-sense rules of make sure everyone has enough should serve you well. 

One of the surprising features of a Korean restaurant experience is that the sides brought to the table are refillable.  Don't worry about the small plate on which they are presented, once it is emptied, it will be refilled.