K- Culture: Have you eaten?

What does having a meal mean to you? You might accept it simply as eating, just because it’s time for a meal. And if someone asks you "What did you eat for lunch/dinner?", you would think ‘it is my privacy what I ate, why do you wonder?’ instead of answering the question.

However, it is considered a general greeting to ask in Korea "Did you have a meal? what did you eat?" in Korea. It is about the Bap culture in Korean society. Bap means a bowl of cooked rice in a narrow sense, and eating a meal in a broad sense. Korean consider eating bap as the most important thing in our life.

Today, I will tell you about Korean Bap culture. You would know that the most general culture is shown in the words people use. So let’s focus on how ‘Bap’ is used in Korean sentences, and see if there is another culture that values bap; eating a meal.

Why is Bap so important in Korean culture? The reason is complex but Korean have been accustomed to the importance for a long time. One of the words for the family is ‘Sikgu’. To translate directly, ‘eating-mouths’, indicating people who eat together under the same roof are considered as family. The expression ‘Sharing the rice from the same pot’ was derived from this meaning and it stretches to the workplace as well. When people say that we share the rice from the same pot means we work under the same roof. Like this usage, I will explain with example sentences that used the word bap or eating implictily.

One of the Korean meals: Gimbap

A typical example is “Let’s have a meal sometime!” as a common greeting. Korean often say this sentence to friends coming across but who have not met in a long time as exchanging contacts or saying goodbye to one another. It is a kind of courtesy and manner to say goodbye, not a real plan to meet up but leave the plan open in the near future. I used to hear that people from abroad often misunderstand it as a real promise with Korean friends.

When asking how you are doing, Korean ask “Do you eat well?”. It contains a lot of meaning; A well balanced diet leads to physical and mental health. So if you miss the meal because of hectic business and it lasts a period of time, you will end up ruining your health. This kind of stretch (not a stretch for korean people) is here. People believe that the most important thing is to eat meals well and especially parents care about their children’s meals. (In fact, I think this parents situation is universal but..) And when someone is sick, people worry about the meal first, saying “Don’t forget to eat even if you’re sick! You have to eat well to become better.”

Also, Korean use bap even while pondering; When people think about their career path or future, they used to say, “What should I do for a living, for having a meal...”, which means the same as ‘What should I do to earn bread and butter’. Similarly, when people should do well in their group like company, they use the phrase, “I DESERVE to eat!”. It belongs to the same logic. It shows that I have to work hard and do well to get the full right to eat.

Also, if you look at the behavioral culture related to bap or eating meals, we cannot leave the Korean Hoesik culture. It refers to a group of people getting together to eat and drink. Hoesik has been a part of the company culture. Going further from taking care of each other’s meals, Korean started to spend time enjoying food together and talking. (Although Hoesik is still common to build up a good relationship, but recently only people who prefer to get together maintain this culture.)

And the last thing, proof that Korean really like the literal bap- a bowl of rice- is fried rice. No matter what Korean restaurant you go to, you would find a menu called ‘fried-rice’. In other words. there is an option- fried rice after any main dish such as Nakji-bokkeum(stir-fried octopus), gamjatang(pork back-bone stew) or samgyeopsal(grilled pork belly). This fried rice is often made with rice, gims(seaweed flakes), a spoon of sesame oil and mixed with the seasoning of the main dish.

I hope you can experience this kind of fried rice when you come to Korea. Even after eating tteokbokki, Korean eat fried rice!! And if you make Korean friends later, you will be told lots of words related to your meal. That’s all because they want to take care of you and become closer to you, so I hope you would accept the words gladly. ?

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This article is write from dragonEditor(Lovefield) & License

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