School Lunches in South Korea - A Week in Photos

Just the teaching English part of working in Korea is awesome, but once you add the school lunches the experience becomes pretty much LEGENDARY. Now, the lunches aren’t free, but at 3,000 won (about $2.75) per meal they may as well be, and while you can opt out of eating the school food, you won’t be able to beat this price and quality.

Here’s how it works: First, the school automatically deducts money from your paycheck each month—usually around ₩63,000 ($57 USD)—so you never have to worry about figuring out how to pay for the food; Second, when the clock strikes 12:30pm ask your coteacher “Where the food at?” and bam! Korean cuisine.

Of course, it’s a little more complex than that, but I know you’re here for the pictures, so let’s get to it!

School Lunches in South Korea: A Week in Photos

School Lunches in South Korea - A Week in Photos

    Chicken soup; spicy cucumber, garlic, and onion salad; rice and stir fried kimchi 김치볶음; pineapple; caramelized anchovies with almonds.

1. Who you eat with and where you eat depends on the school.

Pretty much all middle schools have cafeterias. A lot of elementary schools do not.

In my school, I eat together with the office staff, vice-principle, and principle. Our lunch room is the school science room and the clatter of our chopsticks keep company with the globes and charts which line the walls.

Alternatively, some of my teacher friends eat with students in their homerooms, others eat in cafeterias, and a few eat in their English classroom. What we all agree on: the food is amazing!

Korean school lunches - a week in photos
Rice; seaweed wrap; radish kimchi; kimchi pancake 전; egg and mushroom soup 육개장.

2. Rice on the left, soup on the right.

In Korean dining, it is customary to set your rice dish on the left and your soup bowl on the right. Likewise, when it’s lunchtime at your school, make sure to plop your rice on the left side of your mess tray and pour your soup on the right.

Korean school lunches - a week in photos
Apples; kimchi; cucumber and mushroom salad; pork chops on rice; rice cake soup 떡국.

3. Small servings.

Whether it’s their hardcore recycling program, or the abundance of motion-sensored lights and escalators, Korea is a country committed to saving energy. As an English teacher in Korea, you’ll also find this commitment exhibited in the school lunch room, where you’ll notice that teachers serve themselves smaller portions in order to cut back on food waste.

In contrast to this, I suffer from “my eyes were too big for my stomach” syndrome, but I am learning to serve myself less—opting for seconds, rather than face the shame of dumping another bowl of leftovers into the waste.

School lunches in South Korea - A Week in Photos
Acorn jello 도토리묵; fish baked in curry powder; kimchi; potato and beef stew 감자탕 (lots of bones); rice.

4. When you’re done eating, scoop all your left overs into your soup bowl.

Speaking of waste and Korean efficiency, if you do have left overs, scoop everything into your soup bowl. This makes discarding your food waste a quick emptying of bowl over the garbage pail, rather than a drawn-out scraping of spoon against metal tray.

School Lunches in South Korea - A Week in Photos
Bean sprouts and vegetables; pork cutlet and sauce; radish kimchi; fish cake soup 어묵국; rice; drinkable yogurt.

5. Clean up the mess!

Another thing which depends on the school is who cleans up after the meal. Since I eat in the science room with other teachers and office staff, we all take turns cleaning up and carting the dishes away to the kitchen. One week the teachers and I all clean up and the next week it’s the office staff’s turn.

School Lunches in South Korea - A Week in Photos
A special entry: one week the school lunch ladies went on strike and so this was our lunch that day. Tangerine slices; rice candies; a muffin; a banana.

6. What about the vegetarians?

Sorry guys. The harsh truth is that if you’re vegetarian or vegan then Korea is going to be a tough place for you to forage. Meat is served with every meal and often is in the side dishes as well. Unless you want to have kimchi and rice for lunch every day, you’ll probably end up having to do what most vegetarian teachers here do and pack your own lunch.

School Lunches in South Korea - A Week in Photos
Sweet and spicy noodle and veggie salad 쫄면; Asian pear apples; radish kimchi; veggie mushroom soup 된장국; rice and beef 불고기 덮밥.

7. Wednesday is delicious food day

If you find that your students are in a particularly good mood on Wednesdays, this is why. On Wednesdays, those wonderful kitchen ladies take it upon themselves to cook up the student’s favorite foods, and hey, if the kids love it, odds are you will too.

School Lunches in South Korea - A Week in Photos
From last Wednesday: pumpkin soup 호박죽; apples; breaded and fried shrimp; white Kimchi 백김치; fish cake soup 된장국; bibimpap 비빔밥.

 

Wow! We’ve made it through a week of Korean school lunches and I’m still hungry. But before I run off to the nearest convenience store for some shrimp chips, I’d like to thank you so much for reading.

If you have any other questions on school lunches or about life in Korea, don’t hesitate to leave a comment for me down below!

And if you’re an English teacher already in Korea, I’d love to hear what your lunch situation is like. Did I miss anything in today’s post? What is lunch like at your school? Let me know!

Okay, cheers guys! Those shrimp chips are calling my name.


Hi! Originally from Seattle, I had a longing to explore new places and so I’m now on a multi-year jaunt around the world. These days you can find me teaching English in South Korea and cowriting at SeattleitesAbroad.com.

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8 thoughts on “School Lunches in South Korea: A Week in Photos”

  1. Your lunches look delicious! I should do a post like this, too. The only thing different in my case is the vegetarian aspect. My school knows that I’m vegetarian, so they will often make a small thing of soup or some sides without meat in them for me. Otherwise, they try to bring me a package of 김 to make up for the protein. But sometimes, yeah, just kimchi and rice. Sigh. But I really want 전 now.

    1. Thanks for reading, Jessica! That’s so cool that your school tries to take care of you by making vegetarian dishes^^ Haha, yessss, I’m always down for 전!

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