Friday, August 29, 2014

Funny Fridays // *SPECIAL POST* Rcubed's Guide To Navigating a Korean Barbecue Restaurant

I'm Korean. And naturally a large part of my life is Korean culture; i.e., food.

I actually don't like Korean food that much, having been raised as a good ol' Asian American. I have more of a taste for cheeseburgers than kimchi, and pizza over bean sprouts. But one of the Korean foods that my family and I absolutely LOVE is Korean barbecue.

Imagine this: you're walking inside a restaurant. The instant you walk in, you hear sizzling meat, smell the delicious soy-sauce-infused beef and pork, and see a large diversity of people enjoying small sides of vegetables and potato salad along with different large plates of freshly cooked meat.

That's kind of what a Korean barbecue restaurant is.

So, in case you've never eaten Korean barbecue before or been to a restaurant, but would like to someday, here's your guide to eat at a Korean barbecue restaurant!

Now that you're inside the restaurant, you're seated by a hostess and given menus. 
Since you're in Rcubed's Hypothetical World, money is no object. You order the All-You-Can-Eat Korean barbecue for you and all the people you're with.

The AYCE (All You Can Eat) is basically self-explanatory: you order anything that's listed, however much you want, whenever you want. Many times, people cook it on the table griddles.

Your Crash Course to Using Table Griddles
  • Usually, there's a griddle on top and a flame under the griddle. The waiters lift up the griddle and light the flame under it with a lighter. A dial knob is usually on the side of the table and can be used for raising or lowering the heat.
  • Whenever my family goes to Korean barbecue (usually with extended family or other friends), we have the kids sit at one table and the adults at another. It won't work if you have babies (obviously), but if you're an older kid and responsible enough to work the griddle at the kids' table, use it. Designate one or two older kids, and have them sit closest to the griddle. There are usually one or two pairs of tongs lying around; use those to flip the meat and make sure the food is cooking evenly. Beware of touching eating utensils with raw meat, particularly pork, and make sure EVERYTHING is cooked through all the way.
After you look at the menus and discuss among yourselves, order the meat that seems the most delicious on the menu. While they're getting the plate of raw meat for you, you examine the several little dishes of food on your table and try to figure out what they are. (This is called banchan, with a little bit of p added to the b.)

Keep in mind that these dishes vary with each restaurant. Don't expect to see the exact same things that I'm showing here (unless you go to the same restaurant that I went to, of course). 

Your Crash Course to Banchan

Technically, I don't think this is part of banchan, but I'm including it here anyway. This is basically salad: regular lettuce, with a slightly spicy dressing that has a hint of soy. (It's not that spicy. Try it.) This is really good when paired with the meat.

The middle dish is spinach with a sesame oil-salt sort of dressing. It tastes good (well, as good as spinach can taste), except you have to chew it well; I've choked on this before. 

I hadn't originally seen this before, so I'm not quite sure exactly what it was. However, when I tried it, it tasted good: the noodle-like things were either noodles or some sort of crunchy vegetable, and they were doused in a healthy portion of creamy mayonnaise dressing.

This is corn. I think it's just regular corn, with a few extra things added in, but for the most part it's just corn.

Broccoli (obviously), with some sort of cheese. I thought it was tofu, but my mom told me it wasn't, so I ate it. 

The cheese would have been bland by itself, but it served to be a nice complement to the broccoli.

**WARNING MESSAGE** Never assume something isn't tofu. A couple times, I've picked something up, thinking it was egg or something, but it turned out to be tofu. (Let me tell you: It's unpleasant when you expect something to have a nice, eggy-or-chickeny flavor, and it turns out to be tofu. Tofu!) In my humble opinion, tofu tastes like sponge, and it is one of many reasons why I will not be a vegetarian. Imagine having tofurkey for Thanksgiving!

(Also, I'm not even sure if this broccoli concoction is actually a real Korean dish. But if you take it into the context that they served it at a Korean restaurant...then yes, it is a Korean dish.)

This is pickled radish (and it can be white as well). It has almost a scratchy, starchy consistency (but it's not unpleasant), and if you're a fan of pickles, you'll like this. It's sort of sour and is good paired with something savory (like the meat or the salad).

This is a dish of spicy pickled cucumber. (They're like cucumbers with vinegar.) The spiciness is a little bit more intense than the salad, but not by much. 

And last but not least...THE RICE PAPER!

My siblings literally devour these things by the plate. (My mom had to give our waiter advance notice about her voracious rice-paper-eating children.) Rice paper is basically what it is...rice paper. It's smooth, fairly tasteless, and shiny. (See the reflection of the lights?) But it's perfect for making little mini-tacos or mini-dumplings, and it's pretty squooshable, too. 

***There are usually kimchi dishes added in the banchan as well...but my mom ferried them from the kids' table to the adults' table because she knew that we didn't like them. Alas, they are not included in this guide. Maybe a more appropriate name for this guide should have been "Rcubed's Non-Spicy Guide to Navigating a Korean Barbecue Restaurant."

****Also, there would be potato salad included in this list, but I ate it all and consequently don't have a picture. Sorry :-( But it was good! You can't really go wrong with potato salad :-)

You're sitting at the table, sampling the banchan, when you realize that your meat isn't here and that you're hungry. (Plus, you still have to cook it at your table.) So you're trying to figure out how to contact your waiter when I, Rcubed, magically appear out of thin air and guide you to THE BUTTON, which in some cases is mounted on the table itself or on the wall by the table.

THE BUTTON is kind of a thing of magic. American restaurants don't have it, so it's kind of a novelty. Anyway, THE BUTTON is pretty awesome. Press it, and your waiter will come within a minute or two to see what your problem is. No hand-waving or awkward-flagging-people-down-movements; just use THE BUTTON and all your problems will be solved. (Not really.) But the wait staff will's sort of like a Summons Charm with an erratic delay time.

Anyway, I show you THE BUTTON and your waiter comes, and you explain the issue. He says, "I'm sorry, but our cattle have not been cooperating and will absolutely not stay dead! But we will be out with your order as soon as possible!"

(Keep in mind that I am making this up as I go. Usually, there is no delay for your food; I just made the delay up to introduce you guys to THE BUTTON.)

Your meat eventually comes, and you start using the tongs to put it on the griddle.

That's what it should look like: nice and red.

Then the meat starts to "wilt" and stretch and stuff and turn brown and cook. 

**It's best to stretch the meat in one layer over the griddle. It cooks faster that way.

It's not quite done yet in this picture.

**Make sure you flip the pieces of meat to ensure that they're all cooking all the way.

IT'S DONE! It's brown all the way, and there's no sign of pink, so you begin to distribute the meat to your fellow patrons.

It is at this point in the process that you notice the dish of sauces set in front of you. The restaurant I went to had two sauces (but like the banchan, the sauces vary depending on the restaurant).

This sauce *used* to be my favorite. It's just sesame oil and salt, for dipping your meat.

This sauce is much eviler-looking, but it's my new favorite sauce to dip my meat in, mostly because it's more flavorful. It brings out the, er, meatiness of the meat (wow, I'm such a descriptive person) and it tastes really good. And it's not spicy.

After you cook a couple plates of meat, the waiter comes and substitutes a nice, clean griddle for your dirty, charred, blackened griddle. (You can ask them to do this if you feel like the griddle's disgusting, but usually they'll take initiative and do it without them asking you to.)

Then you decide to order a couple different kinds of meat.

This one was the restaurant's specialty meat. It was a lot like galbi (actually, I think it was galbi), which is my favorite kind of Korean barbecue. It was really good except for the pineapple. (I personally think they added the pineapple to make it look more fancy.)

Use scissors to cut the meat into portions that are easy to distribute.


This is probably my least favorite of the meat. First of all, it has bones in it, and it's kind of a hassle to spit everything out. (My philosophy: if it has to go in your mouth, it should stay there.) Second, it's a pain to cook. Even though the meat is sliced really thin, you have to cook it really well (think burnt) to kill all the germs or salmonella or something. (But then I'm wondering, if you have to burn it, what about cancer? Doesn't burned stuff cause cancer or something? So really, it's a decision between salmonella or cancer. But then what if salmonella causes cancer? Does salmonella cause cancer? There'll probably be a study like that in the future. So it's kind of at your own risk.)

I actually gave my brother a slight bout of food poisoning. I'm notorious for being an impatient person, so apparently, I undercooked the meat. (It looked fine to me.) He went and threw up in the bathroom, but he seemed fine after that, so I wasn't worried. None of us other kids threw up I'm wondering if my brother just made that up as an excuse to go to the bathroom. According to him, the restaurant had some really cool sinks. (Not even kidding. Apparently the sinks were formed like fountains.)

Wish I'd have gone to the bathroom! I could've seen those!

No, this isn't meat. It's egg. (And it's not tofu. Promise.) You can almost always order steamed egg at Korean restaurants, and it's really good egg, too. It always has a really good flavor--it's never bland--and it always comes steaming hot, which is good too (except when you really want to eat it right away).

Sometimes, there's free dessert.

Not even kidding. If you do enough research, you could end up at a restaurant that serves FREE DESSERT!

There are several Korean BBQ restaurants in my area; one of them has mini lollipops and a frozen-yogurt-type thing, another has a serve-yourself ice cream cooler with four flavors and cones; and the one we went to served a full, perfect scoop of strawberry ice cream in a cup.

It was good ice cream, too.

You take your ice cream and eat it in solemnity. 

Then you look at each other and wonder, Who's paying the check?

Being nice, well-rounded awesome people, you each want to pay the check because, well, you're a nice, well-rounded awesome person. And in the process, you start an unwitting fight over who will pay the check.

You #1 says: I'll pay the check! No, you sit down. No, stay there. I order you to!
You #2 says: No, really. I insist on it. Please!
You #3 says: Honestly, you guys paid for it last time. Let me pick up the bill this time! No! Seriously!
(You #4 sneaks to the waiter and pays.)

(You #1, #2, and #3 find out.)

You #1: Seriously?!
You #2: Seriously?!
You #3: Seriously?!
You #4: *shrugs*

You #4 doesn't talk that much.

By the way, adults, it's very awkward for us kids to watch our parents fight over who will pay the bill. 

So, really, eating at Korean barbecue restaurants isn't that hard. Sure, it's different from American restaurants. In some ways, it's awesomer (*coughcough* THE BUTTON), in some ways, it's not-as-awesome (*coughcough* TOFU MIXUPS), and in some ways it's the same.

But I guess that's one of the points of life: doing different things and enjoying them, even though they're different.

So, anyway, hope you had an awesome time trying to figure out my guide to navigating Korean restaurants. I had an awesome time writing it for you, even though it took me like 2 hours (no joke). 

Have you ever been to a Korean barbecue restaurant? What's your favorite food?


  1. My favorite foods are chocolate and coffee, and i have never been to- actually any really Asian place. Unless you count panda express.

    It looks like an adventure thought!!

    Rachel Schaus

    1. Ooh! Chocolate!
      I am not a big fan of coffee.

      And no matter what Panda Express says, it is NOT an Asian restaurant! Go to a Korean Barbecue place; you won't be disappointed! And it is very much an adventure.