Although I was born in the US, I've spent most of my life in Seoul, South Korea – a bustling metropolis where I can eat at a Michelin-featured restaurant for lunch and a hidden hole-in-the-wall spot for dinner. Moving to Boston, I noticed the way food is prepared and enjoyed by Americans was markedly different from what I was used to in Korea. Here are some of the biggest differences I've found between food culture in the U.S and South Korea.

Italian Food

Maybe my tastebuds had gotten used to Korean chefs' take on Italian food, but I was shocked not only when I saw the menus. but also when I tasted the food at Italian restaurants here in Boston's North End. 

Koreans prepare Italian food with a large emphasis on oil. Even when preparing tomato or cream-based pastas, we make use of generous amounts of olive oil. Koreans enjoy classics like ragu and gnocchi, but we also have some unique twists to traditional Italian cuisine that have become mainstream in our country, such as pollock-roe pasta. 

On the other hand, Italian American restaurants prepare pasta dishes that many Americans might be surprised are never offered at Korean Italian restaurants, such as chicken alfredo. I've also noticed that at the restaurants I've visited, there is a significant focus on butter, which makes Italian American pasta taste heavy compared to the more subtle flavor in Korean pasta.

Japanese Food

I would argue that Japanese restaurants in Korea are much more authentic than the U.S, although this is arguably given comparing the geographical proximity. Japanese restaurants in Korea focus on sashimi and nigiri. 

On the other hand, I've almost always gotten sushi rolls at Japanese restaurants in Boston. Philadelphia rolls and cream cheese in general are certainly not traditional, but I would argue that it's undeniable that American rolls offer an affordable and equally delicious gateway into Japanese cuisine.


One thing that I have to hand to Korea is that our chefs know how to make a dish look as pretty as it tastes. Furthermore, the interiors of most cafes and restaurants I frequent in Seoul are easily Instagrammable. 

On the other hand, most restaurants in the U.S usually seem to focus more on quality in the taste of the food.

Cost and Service

I would say that tipping culture is the biggest difference between dining at restaurants in Korea versus the U.S. In the U.S, I always have to factor in additional tip and tax into what I order. This means that I can usually count on more attentive service from the waitstaff, but eating out becomes a significantly more expensive ordeal.

Conversely, Korea does not have tipping culture at all, and tax is included in the prices listed on menus. We also don't have a waiter or waitress assigned to us; rather, anyone who is available on the team comes to help you when you need them. Another key part of Korean dining culture is that there are often buttons on the tables that you can click to ring for attention from the waitstaff. This eliminates the issue of having to flag down your waiter or waitress, but it sometimes makes dining out feel less personal of an experience than in the United States.