Culture Shot: Mind-Boggling Menus

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I am still in the process of learning to read and speak Korean, albeit a process more akin to glacial migration than serious language acquisition, but I’m a busy man. I mean those jelly beans don’t eat themselves! I digress, however, and return to today’s theme: reading menus.

Usually, when I am in a restaurant I can pick out what is tasty based on the picture which is conveniently located next to each menu item. What happens when those pictures aren’t there and the menu is not provided with convenient English subtitles? Well, let me tell you now.

What does this even MEAN???? I think it says “Go to McDonald’s”

Guesswork. Lots and lots of guesswork

I know this is a lot like the predicament I find myself in back home, when I visit a fancy French restaurant and see, to my dismay, that the nouveau riche owner/manager has listed the items solely in French with French descriptions. However, seeing as my server is more likely to be from Letterkenny than Lisle, I can just ask which of the throaty words means steak (medium).

Not in Korea unfortunately. No siree!


Now, there, don’t we look like we’re having a good time? We mustn’t have seen the menu yet.

As such I try to eat with my co-workers when eating in Korean-only places, but last weekend J and I, in a moment of spontaneity, decided to duck into a  Japanese-cum-Korean bar/restaurant (it was a bar but I’ll not take the blame for choosing to eat in a bar instead of a restaurant).

This was ok though, we sat down, ordered some drinks: a coke and a beer. Ah, the universal fallbacks for people who don’t speak the language!

Then we attempted to decipher the menu using Google Translate on my phone. What an idea! Now one thing I had failed to realize about this place was that the menu wouldn’t just be in Korean, but would also be Koreanized Japanese. Wonderful.

So instead of doing what a reasonable person would do and asking the waiter for any help he might offer. I instead pressed my ding-dong (the bell to call the waiter to avoid people clicking fingers or similarly rude gestures to catch a waiter’s attention) and simply pointed to four dishes at random.

Jamie declined such responsibility, citing that my luck was much better than his when it came to guesswork. I somehow think he was just trying to avoid getting blamed if something horrific landed down to our table. Who can blame him?


Not quite what I was expecting, but hey, not bad for guesswork!

As you can see, Emmet’s luck runs good and we were served this cute, if meager, platter of skewers. From left to right we got: chicken (body-part unidentified), pork, potatoes, and quail’s eggs wrapped in bacon. It was glorious. However, our still-grumbling bellies would require more than 4 sticks of food and so we returned to our guessing-game.

This time, in order to take advantage of an offer going on where 7 skewers were better value we decided to brave asking our waiter could he recommend anything. A vain hope in my book as I hadn’t had much luck elsewhere with conveying the meaning of “recommendations”.

However, the waiter, who looked like a Japanese/Korean mixed-race popstar, replied in almost perfect English, “Well, do you like seafood? Or would you prefer chicken and other things?” I felt the color rising in my cheeks and the smugness emanating from my table-mate after this reply as I had previously insisted the staff had no English.

This time we got two of our previous order again, as the quail’s eggs and potatoes were delicious, but we also ordered chicken skin (Emmet’s guesswork was less than perfect on this one), spicy chicken ribs, sausage wrapped in bacon, and two other very tasty skewered meats of indeterminable origin. Washed down with a second beer for J and another Coke for me it was quite the feast.


Confusing menu-0 Emmet-1.


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