Korean BBQ is one of the most fun and delicious communal dining experiences one can have, but for a newbie who doesn't know their banchan from their bulgogi, or their soju and their ssambap, it can be a little intimidating the first time. For starters, what type of meat should I order, and how much? What's the deal with all those plates of food I didn't order that the server just dropped at my table? What the hell do I do with that basket of lettuce?
To assuage any anxiety, we tapped Irene Yoo of Korean fusion pop-ups Yooeating?! to offer a beginners guide to the Korean BBQ experience. We headed to Koreatown in Manhattan to post up at Miss Korea BBQ, where Yoo walked us through ordering, eating, drinking and...singing. It's all part of the experience.
At most restaurants, staff will do the cooking for you, taking a lot of the guesswork about how to season the grill, flip the meat and let you know when everything's ready to eat. One thing to note is that, because of this, the food tends to come out fast, and when it starts, it doesn't stop. Be prepared to be stuffing your face near constantly over the course of the meal.
Yoo points out that for Koreans, BBQ and other communal meals are where people do most of their drinking, as bars devoted solely to boozing aren't as common in Korea. Keep in mind proper etiquette when you're at the table: never pour your own drink and the younger people at the table pour for the elder. Drinking games, like the one in the video, are both common and encouraged—just don't burn down the restaurant with any out-of-control antics.
A trip to a nearby karaoke spot is the logical next step post-meal, but don't be embarrassed if it's a nap you're seeking. Postprandial somnolence is all but guaranteed—nothing a little drunk Bonnie Tyler can't remedy.