Lessons Learned from Eating and Overeating in Korea

It’s not so hard to get carried away with the many food options in Korea, especially if they have one or more representative dish per area and a high number of Michellin-recommended and highly recommended restaurant reviews on Google and Naver maps. I have always loved that the Korean restaurants specialize in only one or two menu items so you only have to think of a meal name and search from there. So I would just like to make this post as a reminder for myself and to others on what Jeff and I do to select where to eat and how we handled a recent overeating incident near Seoul, even how to reserve and cancel bookings in this recent digital age and post-pandemic.


I've broken it up into sections below so that it's easier to digest.

What to Eat

In choosing what to eat in Korea, I always go for local Korean food. Sure there is international food available if you want, but you can always find good Korean food in Korea almost everywhere. For me, the ones in my country doesn't even come close to what they have here and the choices. I also can't cook them the way it tastes so homemade there. So when in Seoul, we always make it a point to eat Korean cuisine. The ingredients they also get there are so much nicer than what we have and you can see these in their local traditional market scene. And, as I said earlier, they always specialize in one or two things only per restaurant and there are certain things you only eat for lunch, dinner or every season so it is very interesting for me. If you're going outside Seoul, look for "Place + the keywords "Representative Food" or "Specialty". You'll be surprised with more specialties and you can only get it there. If you don't know where to start, begin by researching about typical Korean food names and what they are. This is also a good introduction to Hangeul (the Korean alphabet). I learned these Korean names first, tasted them and gradually knew them by heart and would crave for them sometimes. It also helps to navigate the Visit Korea website. πŸ˜‰  Instagram, Facebook and the respective Korean city/province SNS channels (social media pages) can also help you prepare for a K-food experience.

How to Choose

Because the key to Korean food is knowing what the food you want to eat today. Just convert it to Korean and paste it on Naver to get the reviews. You can also do Google maps simultaneously to see more reviews, menu, opening times but always have Naver on the last say. What we do mostly is plot it on Google maps since Jeff is more comfortable with that (he uses it for all countries). He would have different flags all over Seoul for example that I already pre-selected as "Want to Eat" then we will look at it every day of the trip and choose the closest ones to our itinerary for the day or plan around it if it is a must eat or if we have reservations. Then, when we are in Korea, we use Naver maps to help us get there and more accurate locations. I think the reason for this is that Korea wants the maps and data on local servers so Naver trumps Google since it doesn't work properly there.

Menu and Translation

Before we go to a restaurant, I already know what to order more or less. Sometimes, I have a picture to just show to the owner or staff of the restaurant or have the Korean name ready and highlighted. You can also translate the menu photos online and look for the unfamiliar terms one by one. This will help you not feel rushed when you're there because of the Korean Pali Pali culture (everything has to be fast and hurry up). If you see any chilies (green or red) or red stuff in the images, kindly research ahead if this dish is spicy if you have that requirement. I also have a backup order just in case they ask me to order more or the item is not available. Please keep in mind that the menu and prices may change, esp. with the current inflation.

Where to Book - Visa Concierge, closing times

So the apps we recently used to book in Seoul were Catch Table and Red Table λ ˆλ“œν…Œμ΄λΈ”  via iPhone app. It depends on the restaurant if they have a preferred online booking feature. I was able to reserve on two different restaurants using the two apps. The catch is you need to prepay. The first one asked for a reservation fee (not sure if deductible since we cancelled) and the other one I needed to pay for a menu item already and claim it at the store. Both the apps have a last day to cancel for free near the date of reservation just in case of last minute change of plans so read the fine print before you pay. The refunds take a bit of time though to reflect on the credit cards. On another trip outside of Seoul, we were able to successfully phone in reservations through the Visa Concierge Ph on Viber (but you need to have a Visa card)! They took care of everything for us for free and we paid at the restaurant. In all of these 3 services, we needed to book in advance for days or weeks. 

Time to Eat 

Please be mindful that some of the restaurants close in mid-afternoon and have last order times so we always target to eat at around 11am for lunch and 5pm for dinner. Consider travel times and long lines if you want to eat in a more popular restaurant. During late nights around after 8:30-9pm onwards, we found that only BBQ places, pocha tents and Korean fried chicken places are mostly open so if you eat healthier stuff, please plan accordingly. Naver sometimes lists the times accurately. Other places also have different opening and closing times during summer and winter months. There are 24-hour (24μ‹œ) restaurants in some areas serving specific types of food like hangover soup πŸ˜† You might be surprised to know that most restaurants open at around 10-11am in the morning so I guess bakeries or cafes might be your breakfast options or soup restaurants. You can also buy fruit and packaged food in the groceries and convenience stores.

Ordering in Restaurants and Price

Upon entering, they usually ask for how many people. If you see a line, look for a waiting list and put your name there (sometimes they require a Korean phone number, I just write 1111 and they will call you 1111 if the table is ready). Don't be surprised if a restaurant has a "one order per person" rule. Water is free and side dishes mostly unlimited. You may get weird stares if you eat alone, esp. in a barbecue place, or may be turned away unless you order for 2 people at least. I think this is because Koreans like eating together. During these times, maybe you can try a Kimbap or Tteokbokki place. We haven't done any food deliveries like Coupang or Naver Delivery thru Baedal Minjok λ°°λ‹¬μ˜λ―Όμ‘± on our own yet due to Korean mobile number restrictions so if you want to do that, maybe you can ask a friend to do it for you or the hotel to help you. 

Pharmacies and Doctors  

During our last trip, we found a lot of pharmacies near drinking areas and restaurants πŸ˜‚ I guess great spicy food and lots of soju/alcohol comes with a lot of tummy aches afterwards.. We found some closed though on weekends, some don't take foreign prescription and we're not sure what time they close. They are easy to spot with the big μ•½ sign. Just describe your symptoms, translate and the pharmacists can help you. Please be mindful that you might not get some of your prescription medicine here available in your country so I would just bring my own just in case. We are so thankful we found some Loperamide and Buscopan that the doctor prescribed for our indigestion and/or food poisoning. Some types of medicines or controlled substances are also not allowed in Korea unless you have seeked approval from their Narcotics department before your trip. Just Google "Self Treatment Narcotics Bring in Permit Korea" for the link. I have recently seen that you can dial 119 or 911 for any emergency like maybe you need to go to a hospital (with fine for prank calls) or 1330 (if you want to report an unsanitary restaurant).

What to Eat When Sick or Tummy Not Feeling Well - Safe Food 

I followed what the doctor said and just ate apples, bananas, normal temperature water (not cold) and hydration salts/Pocari. You can find the fruits and purified water at the convenience store and Homeplus for us. I always bring Hydrite in my travels. He also said that warm soup helps so I found some boneless beef haejangguk to try out since it was mild spicy. Our tummies also thanked us for the seolleongtang, steamed mandu, kalguksu, dwaejji gukbap for the next few days by feeling better. I forgot that we can also eat jeongol or hot pot. I gradually introduced non-spicy kimchi as well. Just always indicate not spicy (memorize it!) Not Spicy = (anmewoyo) μ•ˆλ§€μ›‘μš”. Oh, and if you order take out, there is no one person one order rule haha. 

Consider a Cooking Class

Just maybe, I can encourage you to cook your own food and know how to make them by yourself. This way, you can even know what to bring home to cook and how to prepare it safely. It is a very fun experience on it's own. We tried Tasty K in Seoul with an English traditional market tour and we enjoyed it very much! Say hi to Ashley for me if ever you choose Tasty K. 😘 

Other Considerations

I don't eat raw food like sashimi, oysters and exotic food to avoid stomach problems so do so at your own risk and enjoyment. I tried a bit of the raw marinated soy sauce crabs this time and it might have triggered some of what I experienced as well. Finally, we tend to eat a lot of veggies in Korea and it's great for digestion! But they can also be sitting out there for a long time or not well prepared or contaminated, even if they were cooked a few hours earlier. Eating boiled and cooked food is a priority for me, especially after this. We also walk all the food off in the afternoons and evenings after our meals then we get a good night's sleep because we are so tired! πŸ˜‚ 

Enjoy eating in Korea and I wish you good health! Just please come prepared and don't overeat πŸ˜‡ There's always a next time to go back to Korea so you don't have to eat everything haha.

Lessons Learned from Eating and Overeating in Korea