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Help with Korean etiquette please

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I very rarely eat Korean food, but just came across a wonderful Korean restaurant near me. I had a fabulous bibimbap with several of the complementary/complimentary side dishes.

What I really wanted though, to cut the richness of the dish and brighten it, was a splash of acid. Would it be considered rude, or normal, or just plain weird to ask for something to that end at a Korean restaurant (lemon/vinegar?)?

Thanks for your advice!

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  1. I'd stir in some Kimchi, myself since its fermented it would add some of that acid. Might even pour in a few drops of the kimchi juice in the bowl it was served in.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ariadanz

      Actually, I did stir in the kimchi juice, but I find it hot and salty rather than acidic (the effect of being fermented rather than pickled?). Definitely a great addition though ;-)

    2. I don't think it would be rude, but isn't that what the banchan is there for?

      1. No etiquette problem at all. Just ask. Also, I agree with you, I've had plenty of bimbimbap that could use something like that!

        1. It's okay to ask for any sort of condiments in a Korean restaurant. Same goes for Chinese or Japanese restaurants - Orientals are not like the French chefs to take that as a personal affront. Rather, the Chinese/Japanese/Koreans recognize that every diner have his/her own preferences.

          During my last couple of trips to Seoul (and cities like Sacheon, Jinju, etc), I actually brought along jars of "sambal belachan" (Singapore-style chilli paste) and chilli sauce (Thai-style sweetish chilli sauce) because I found Korean "kochujang" (chillied bean sauce) and various "kim chi" to be too salty, and not spicy enough for my taste. The "sambal belachan" complemented bulgogi and bibimbap like a dream.

          Next time, I'm going to bring super-spicy fresh bird's eye chillies - should go very well with samgyetang soups.

          1. Out of curiosity of availability (more so than etiquette), would lemons be readily available in a Korean restaurant?

            I had bibimbap recently, and could definitely appreciate how adding some lemon could add a nice brightness to the dish. However, given my rough recollection of the menu, is there any lemon is standard Korean cooking?

            If the question is yes though - a subtle way to ask for lemon (without it obviously being to squeeze over your meal) is to ask for lemons slices (or extra) for your water. Often they get brought out on a plate as opposed to directly added to the water glass to be used at your desire. Definitely fits within the range of 'normal restaurant requests' if coming off weird is a concern.

            2 Replies
            1. re: cresyd

              Lemons are not used in traditional korean cuisine but it's sometimes used as a garnish if you're in one of those korean restaurants that serve korean style chinese food. I wouldn't hesitate to take a lemon with me and do as I please. I can't imagine any normal korean objecting to a customer customizing food flavor especially if it doesn't require any effort on their part. They'll appreciate your business - bottom line.