It’s been often said that when you eat at an ethnic restaurant, go where the locals go and avoid the ones that are empty or filled with foreigners. Well, that’s not always true. Last night, we went out for dinner and looked around Seoul for a place to eat. We wanted standard Korean fare–the usual bulgogi, galbi, and bibimbap. We passed over a couple of empty restaurants, figuring that they were empty on Saturday night for a reason; namely, they weren’t very good. Instead, we went into a restaurant filled with Koreans. We had no idea what food the restaurant served when we went in. It turns out that the restaurant served spicy pork bone soup with potato and sesame leaves. In Korea, most restaurants have a single specialty that they do well and accent the dish with panchan, or side dishes. This restaurant specialized in a particular Korean dish not often served in other Korean restaurants. It was delicious, despite the fact that it doesn’t sound very appetizing to the Western palette. The pork and sesame in spicy broth actually taste pretty good. Still, the meal we ate wasn’t exactly what we wanted to eat. It turns out that the empty restaurant next door served bulgogi, galbi, and bibimbap, the usual Korean fare. Of course, that’s exactly what most Koreans don’t want to eat when they go out on a Saturday night. They can get standard Korean fare at home anytime. Instead, Koreans would rather go for something a bit more exotic like pork bone soup. Today, we went for lunch at a familiar Korean restaurant and got our fill of wet bulgogi. As expected, the restaurant was virtually empty, and most customers were foreigners. Sometimes the old adage I mentioned isn’t true. Sometimes it’s better to avoid the places where the locals go and stick with what you want to eat. Otherwise, you might be unpleasantly surprised. The bulgogi may not be the best, but it will taste better than something not appealing to your taste buds.
From the "Things that Make You Go…Hmm" Department: It annoys me that the signature lines on Korean credit card slips is so small. Most signature lines are small, one-inch boxes in the lower-right corner of credit card slips. Today, I finally realized that that is because Koreans sign their name in hangeul (한글), Korea’s unique writing system. Koreans need far less space to sign their names than do westerners, because Hangeul signatures are much more compact than Romanized signatures. I’ve learned to abbreviate my own signature so it will fit in the signature box. It’s just one of many little quirky things about Korean culture I’ve realized in the brief time I’ve been here that are different from the United States. For example, if you own a foreign car (non-Korean), be prepared to have difficulties finding common car parts and accessories. If you need an oil change for your Toyota, you have to bring the oil and air filters with you. The local garages don’t carry them. You will either have to order them online or go to a Toyota dealership, which will have to order the parts from Japan just like any other car part. So it is in Korea.