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Last updated : Nov 2009
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Food & Drink

Korea has its own cuisine, unlike Chinese or Japanese and Rice is Korea's staple food. A usual Korean meal comprises rice, soup, rice water and 8-20 side dishes of bean-curd, fish, eggs, poultry, vegetables and sea plants. Most Korean side dishes and soups are heavily laced with red pepper.

Dishes include kimchi (the national dish of Korea, highly spiced pickle of Chinese cabbage or white radish with turnips, onions, chestnuts, red pepper, salt and fish), soups (based on beef, pork, oxtail, other meat, fish, chicken and cabbage, almost all spiced), pulgogi (marinated, charcoal-broiled beef barbecue), Genghis Khan (thin slices of beef and vegetables boiled at the table) or sinsollo (meat, eggs, fish and vegetables such as chestnuts and pine nuts cooked in a brazier chafing dish at the table). Some other examples of local cuisine are sanjok (strips of steak with mushrooms and onions), kalbichim (steamed beef ribs), fresh abalone and shrimps (from Chejudo Island, served with chili sauces, mustard or soy) and Korean seaweed (prized throughout the Far East). There are waiter and counter service available. Main hotels will always provide a wide range of restaurants, serving Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisine or more Western-style food. For more details about Korean food, a brochure called The Wonderful World of Korean Food is available from Korea National Tourism Organisation’s Tourist Information Centres.

Local drinks are mainly made from fermented rice or wheat, for example soju (like vodka and made from potatoes or grain), jungjong (expensive variant of rice wine) or yakju/takju (cloudy and light tan-coloured) known together as makkoli.

There are many brands of Korean beer available, which include Cass, Hite and OB. Ginseng wine is quite strong and sweet, fairly like brandy, but varies in taste according to the common ingredient used. The most ordinary type of drinking establishment is the Suljip (wine bar), and there are also beer houses serving the famous European brands.

Nightlife

Korea’s nightlife perfectly combines the traditional with increasing external influences. The areas of Yong-Dong and Itaewon in Seoul have nightclubs catering grandly to travellers, many with evening cabarets. Some of the hotels also provides nightclubs but they tend to be quite high-priced. Larger hotels feature their own private theatre restaurants, Korea House provides local food in a Korean style atmosphere, followed by traditional Korean dancing and music.

Many Beer halls are designed with a European style theme and they are famous places to drink. Travellers are expected to eat and drink. There are also a lot of cinemas available. The National Theatre provides concerts, operas and recitals while the Korea House and the Drama Centre offer classical music, dances, plays and the performances of Korean. For daily listings of events, contact the Korea’s English-language papers. Many licensed state-of-the-art casinos operate at many places throughout the country.

Shopping

Popular products to purchase are brocades, gold jewellery, handbags, hand-tailored clothes, leatherwork, sweaters (plain, embroidered or beaded), silks, topaz, amethyst, amber, baskets, brass ware, costume dolls, jade and silver, ginseng, musical instruments, lacquer ware, paintings, woodcarvings, scrolls and screens. As many places, the prices are fixed in the department stores, but may be negotiated in arcades and markets.

There are foreigners’ duty free shops available in main cities, where people can use foreign currency with a valid passport. Hotel staff will be able to tell their guests the location (see Sports & Activities section for further information).

Shopping hours

Monday-Friday 10.30 am - 7.30 pm (department stores), 10.30 am - 8.30 pm (markets and smaller shops).

Note

For travellers who buy products or goods worth more than W50,000 at stores with ‘Tax Free Shopping’ signs or goods over W30,000 at outlets with ‘Tax Refund Shopping’ signs, 70-80% of the paid VAT (Value Added Tax) and SET (Special Excise Tax) will be refunded in cash at the airport. Travellers may require to present receipts and purchases to the customs officer.

Special Events

Korea (Rep) celebrates its many yearly festivals through the year. The most important festival is Buddha’s Birthday, during which the ‘Feast of Lanterns’ is performed in the streets of Korea Republic. Of great importance are the yearly village rituals which are nationally recognised. At these festivals, great generals, mountain spirits and royalty of the past are remembered. There are also festivals that mark the changing of the seasons and festivals of prayer for a good harvest. All are characterised by processions, by masked and costumed local people, dancing, music, battles and sports, to recreate the original historic event or to conjure up good spirits. Contact the Korea National Tourism Organisation’s Tourist Information Centres for more information and exact dates.

The following is a variety of special events occurring in Korea (Rep) in 2006:
January 1 Seongsan Ilchul Festival (New Year’s sunrise).
January 27-30 Daegwallyeong Snow Flower Festival, Gangwon-do/Inje Pond Smelt Fishing (ice fishing competition and festivities), Soyangho Lake.
February 17-19 First Full Moon Field Fire Festival (burning of dry grass), Jeju-do.
March 15-23 Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
April 2-5 Yeongam Wang-in Cultural Festival, Jeollanam-do.
July 14-23 Bucheon-si Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, Goyang-si.
August 8-10 Yeosu International Youth Festival. l
Social Conventions

Before entering a Korean home, shoes should be removed and entertainment is always lavish and Koreans may sometimes be offended if their hospitality is not accepted. Customs are quite similar to those in the West. Small gifts are normal and traditional etiquette needs the use of the right hand for giving and receiving.

Dress should be casual and practical clothes are proper. Traditional costume, or hanbok, is generally worn on holidays and special occasions. Men should wear baji, a short jacket and loose trousers, that are tied at the ankles. Women's hanboks consist of a wrap-around skirt and a bolero-style jacket and is usually called a chima-jeogori. Both ensembles may be topped by a durumagi which is a long coat.

Tipping

Even though it is not a Korean custom, most hotels and other tourist facilities add a 10 % service charge to their bills.

Taxi drivers are not tipped except that they help with luggage.
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