Dipping radishes in ketchup…and other awkward Korean food faux pas

So yesterday was my first full day in Korea and what a day it was. After I got up, Amanda (another new teacher) and I went out to go explore a little bit of Bucheon, the area around our hotel. After working up a sweat just strolling—seriously it is so humid—we finally found a little coffee shop and clumsily ordered and paid for our first things in Korea. Ordering and paying for things is actually not as challenging as deciphering menus written all in Korean—I’m definitely going to be working harder at learning the alphabet! After we got some coffee, we found a little corner market to try and buy fruit for ‘breakfast’, which as expected is not like American breakfast (think rice, vegetables, and more kimchi). I was ready for fruit and had picked out a delicious looking green apple, but little did I know that it is basically impossible to buy a single fruit! The man working the stall was nice about it though and just promptly picked up the rest of the basket of apples and dumped them in my bag. At first I thought maybe he was just trying to make an extra won but then later another teacher confirmed that you must buy fruit in bulk.

So this weird thing I ate (I feel as though this is going to be a popular sentence starter) was something I picked out from an illustration on a chalkboard menu at a coffee shop called a patbingsu (there’s a picture on my facebook/Instagram for my social media pals). While everyone else happily enjoyed their chinammon bagels (that’s right), I was subjected to my first experience of regretting something I ordered, albeit a prime opportunity to self-justify and remind myself that “at least I can say I tried it!” This strange treat was served in a bowl and consisted of a mound of flakes of ice soaked in rice milk topped with red bean paste and almond slices and a rice cake stuffed with red bean paste. Yeah. So the main problem actually wasn’t the red bean paste—it was more the effect that multiple temperatures and textures coming together that my teeth and tongue were not fans of. Again, oh well!

After some more sweaty-strolling we mercifully found a huge water fountain and got our feet wet in an attempt to beat some of the heat and decided to rejoin later for dinner before heading out to try the subways to get to Seoul. I was anxious to try the subways and get some independence from the herd but definitely nervous about Seoul as well.

We finally met up for dinner and at this point, I am basically starving having only eaten an apple and a couple of bites of patbingsu, but trying my best to hold it together for the sake of the group and am only hanging on by a thread. We were all probably a bit starved and so we hurriedly chose a place with the letters “BBQ” on the outside thinking we could get some Korean barbeque. Ha! It was definitely more of an America meets Korea meets America restaurant, oddly despite it being filled with only Koreans. Regardless, we were starved so we ordered several plates of assorted chicken dishes to share. The one thing we wanted that genuinely looked authentic was a noodle side dish, and even though as we ordered it our waiter laughed in our faces, we persisted in convincing him we were going to try it. He then brings us some cubed radishes and little bowls of ketchup and mustard. Thinking (or not thinking) that the radishes were meant to be dipped in the condiments, we set out, metallic, heavy chopsticks in hand, to dunk those radishes. Mistake. The waiter quickly comes back to offer a kind bit of advice- the Americans usually use the ketchup and mustard for the French fries. We, of course erupt in laughter at our foolishness, and he may have gotten a kick out of it but I appreciated his grace in correcting us nonetheless.

I could go on, but I feel like my first observations of Seoul and the subways will make this post way too long so I’ll save it for later. Hopefully tonight’s hunt for authentic Korean dinner is more successful, but if not, I’m sure it’ll make a great story.

Update/Spoiler:: Had some AMAZING Korean barbeque tonight after all and can’t wait to tell you all about it but for now, here are some pictures of the place and me!

can't read the sign? who's got the time, just order the beef
can’t read the sign? who’s got the time, (just order the beef)
me eating delicious Korean BBQ on the streets of Bucheon
eating delicious Korean BBQ on the streets of Bucheon



Korean Ice cream treat
sweet Ice cream treat for dessert!

2 thoughts on “Dipping radishes in ketchup…and other awkward Korean food faux pas

  1. The food you described sounds realy diff., but. I will pass this Time . It sure was nice to hear from before lunch.. eating out is always a fun thing if you can laugh at yourself. In France,While we were there, I wanted to order milk. ,(Lait) I told the waitress ” I want, “du lait”.After much giggling on her part, she pointed me to the other side of the patisserie (bakery) which I found to be the door to the “toilette..”,..closes but no points on that one.

    We will have you in our prayers this Wed…isn’t. That day one with your group ?

    1. Hahaha ah the ever important question of “where’s the toilet?!” Don’t worry we had something much more delicious for dinner last night:) And yes, Wednesday will definitely be a big day- we move into our apartments in the morning and then start our first day of teaching in the afternoon!

      thanks grampa- love you,

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