Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Meals and Customs in Korea


Koreans disagree whether breakfast or supper is the main meal of the day. Generally breakfast is more important in the country, while supper is the main meal in the city. Considering the work patterns, this emphasis can he understood. Since rice and kimchi are present at every meal, the additions of soup, meat or fish, and vegetable dishes and more probably, the amount and number of courses, would signify which is the most important meal of the day. Many Koreans prefer rice for breakfast and supper, while a noodle dish with meat or fish and vegetables and sometimes soup provides a satisfying lunch.

Meals are usually taken while the family and guests sit cross-legged around a floor mat upon which are placed separate low-legged trays with the foods for each diner. Sometimes foods are arranged banquet or buffet style and each diner takes his or her portion to eat with rice.

Ladles made from gourds as well as crafted ladles from brass are used for spooning out foods, but brass chopsticks and spoons are used for dining. Rice, soup, and kimchi may be eaten with the aid of spoons; liquid, soup, kimchi juice and wine can also be loudly and appreciatively sucked from bowls.

The etiquette of chopsticks demands that they be held close to bowl and mouth. Further, they should always be held close to the top ends for it is said that those who hold their chopsticks near the working end will have a bad wife. It is considered bad taste to make a scratching sound with chopsticks or spoons against the food bowls.

It is expected that liquor will be served at funerals, weddings, sixty-first birthdays (sixty-one is considered a significant age), at any old man’s birthday, at all ceremonial festivals. Wine is poured graciously into a bowl and passed around, while the men sit on their heels and sip. The largest wine bowl (about 4 inches) is for T’akju; Yakju is served in a smaller one; and the potent Soju is presented in a tiny wine cup. The many forms of kimchi are nibbled in between sips of the wine as an hors d’oeuvre.

Both men and women enjoy pipe tobacco at any time. In the cities and towns people enjoy smoking cigarettes, but these are too expensive for most villagers who simply grow and dry their own tobacco suited more to pipe smoking.

Children are nursed till about two years of age but in the villages it is not uncommon to see even six-year-olds occasionally nursing. This is no embarrassment to anyone. Weaning is accomplished by the simple expedient of dabbing the nipples with pepper. Children are fed whenever they cry. As the child becomes older he or she may be given a corn cob to nibble or a cooked potato or even a daikon soaked briefly in saltwater.

Social life in the villages centers on the matang, and guests are always welcomed. The only exception to this is the few days after childbirth when it is understood that the family would prefer to be alone. In the cities, many fine restaurants abound and men enjoy bars, cafes, and nightclubs. Upper-class men enjoy the company of kisaeng (female entertainers like the geishas of Japan), while upper-class women for the most part live a secluded and isolated life, spending their free time sewing and embroidering when the details of managing the home are completed. However, Korean cities, like large cities everywhere, are changing with the pressures of modern society and more and more women are venturing into the business and professional world.

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