Korean and German Food Culture in comparison

by Sarah Müller from Germany

If I could write about all the differences and similarities between Germany and Korea this article would turn into a whole book! So it is easier to just focus on one part. And there is one which got me really surprised sometimes: the food culture!

During my time in Korea, I was able to try as much Korean food as I was able to fit in my stomach and learned a lot about the making, etc. because of the Adventure Korea Food Vlog “Foodie Traveler – 푸디트래블러”. And at first sight, the German and Korean food culture don’t have much in common. But sometimes I actually get surprised by Korean meals I tried because of their similarity. So now I want to give you a short overview of how I experienced the differences and similarities of Korean and German food culture. 

At the table

I think one of the biggest differences is table etiquette and the process in a restaurant. In Germany, you have a starter, the main menu and sometimes a dessert when you go to a restaurant. The meals are already prepared and everybody gets their own food. In Korea, everything comes at the same time and is often cooked directly at the table. All the meals and especially the Banchan, the side dishes, are shared – sharing is really important in Korean manners! 

I already knew the sharing aspect from various K-Dramas and also the usage of other flatware. As in most other Asian countries, Koreans use chopsticks instead of forks. And they also often use scissors instead of knives, which is a hack I will bring to Germany. It is so useful, especially when it comes to cutting meat! 

Another interesting aspect is that you never pour a drink yourself (and when you pour somebody else, put your hand under your arm!). As a younger person, you also have to turn away from the older ones when you drink alcohol as a form of respect. 

As you can see the table etiquette is really different. Normally we go to restaurants on special occasions in Germany, but in Korea, it is quite normal to go out for lunch and/or dinner instead of cooking. When I see the prices of groceries here in Korea, I can completely understand that! Eating outside is cheaper most of the times^^

Okay, this was a whole block just with differences. But especially when it comes to food and drinking culture I found some similarities.

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First of all, I have to say that both cultures love meat and eating together is a big thing that you can also see in the amount of food you normally get in restaurants. But in Germany, you have more options as a vegetarian than in Korea. One of my friends here in Korea is vegetarian and she had to adjust herself f.ex. by putting the meat on the side. But all in all both countries are meat lovers and also soup lovers! You can always find at least one stew or soup on a menu and meat (or fish) are the main dishes or even included in the soup.

I was quite surprised when I tasted fish here in Korea. In Germany I never ate fish because of its taste. But the different herbs and the spicy sauce changed the taste completely, sometimes I even couldn’t taste that it was fish. The only thing that Germans really have to get used to when they don’t like fish is seaweed – it also smells like the ocean and is used as a special ingredient sometimes. But as stated above the biggest difference in food is the Banchan, the various side dishes like kimchi or radish which come with every meal. In Germany, we sometimes order food plates as starters which we share but that is the only thing I can count as “sharing” in restaurants. And of course, you also use different ingredients and so on a different spicy level. If you can’t handle spicy food be a bit careful! But don’t worry, there are great alternatives to spicy sauces or soups (f. ex. bone soup).

And there are even many similarities between certain traditional meals! Samgyetang reminds me of our german chicken soup which we sometimes eat when we are sick (and Samgyetang is also a good soup to gain some energy again!). Other chicken dishes like fried chicken are also really common in Germany, we name it “Backhendl”. BBQ is a big thing in both countries, but in Germany, we actually do the BBQ (in german we say “Grillen”) just in summer outside in gardens or on the balcony while in Korea you can do BBQ all year. Quite funny was when I saw Sae-Al: these are potato dumplings which look like a miniature version of the german “Kartoffelknödel” or “Kartoffelklöße” – and they even taste the same! 

But the biggest surprise for me was when I saw our “Schnitzel” here as the Korean dish “Donkkaseu”! The breadcrumb coating is a bit crispier, but that is the biggest difference. So as a Korean or a German if you miss your home when you are in the other country I can really recommend Donkkaseu!

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Drinks and drinking culture

The most similarities I found in the drinking culture. First, there is Coffee – you can find coffee EVERYWHERE! In Germany, little Cafés are really common (I guess we got that from Italy) where you sit together and enjoy your (often) hot drink. In Korea, Cafés are not only for a rest, many students also learn in there. Coffee is even more common and loved by everybody in Korea than in Germany although we are already a huge coffee nation! Even my german friend who never drank coffee before drank Cold Brew or Ice Americano here. And when I am already at the point of Ice Americano: that is one of the best drinks ever! You can see a slightly difference to Germany here: when we order an Ice Coffee we get Coffee with a scoop of ice cream inside. 

Second, the alcohol: Koreans have Soju, Germans have Schnaps (which is more comparable with the fruity soju or the clear one without mixing!). Koreans have beer, germans have beer. And they love to drink beer while eating as well. Drinking together is seen as a social interaction and not only for “getting drunk”. What I experienced here in Korea is that this way of thinking about getting together and just grab a drink for the sense of community is quite important, between colleagues as well!

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I hope I could give you a short and interesting overlook of the differences and similarities of German and Korean food! I bet you will love both food and drinking cultures as much as me!

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