How To Eat Alone in Korea

In Korea, a country known for its collectivist culture, the act of dining alone, or “honbap”, was once viewed with bewilderment. There was a time when solo diners would garner curious glances or even a sympathetic look from other people. Korean traditions emphasize group meals and shared dishes, which has contributed to the view that eating is a communal activity. However, in recent years, there has been a significant shift in this mindset.

As Korea’s society has undergone many changes, so have its dining habits. Over the last few years, the country has witnessed the emergence of a new trend – the Doing Stuff Alone culture. This isn’t restricted only to dining; many are now choosing to live alone and even enjoy a drink by themselves. The paradigm shift is such that there is an increasing number of die-hart followers of this trend called 혼밥/honbap in Korean.

But some difficulties remain, especially for foreigners. For instance, at the workplace, if you’re a foreigner with Korean colleagues, expressing a desire to eat alone can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. Colleagues may misconstrue this personal preference as a sign of sadness or alienation. However, this can be managed. One can patiently explain the cultural differences that might influence one’s choices, emphasizing the fact that solitude, at times, is preferred in many cultures. Being proactive in planning lunches with colleagues on some days and eating alone on others can also help normalize the practice. Furthermore, practical reasons like having packed a personal lunch or having scheduled calls can easily justify a solitary lunch.

The restaurant scene has its own set of challenges for solo diners as well. Given that many dishes are meant for sharing, it’s not uncommon for restaurants to have minimum order requirements. Some establishments might be reluctant to serve double portions to a single diner due to concerns about food wastage or misconceptions about the order itself. Creative solutions can be employed here. For instance, one could order an extra portion as a takeout, but eat both portions on the spot. Pretending to expect company and then quietly finishing the meal can also work.

However, the good news is that many restaurants now offer single servings, and there are even eateries specifically designed for solo diners. These places not only offer single portions but also provide an ambiance where one can enjoy their meal in peace without feeling out of place.

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