Survival Guide for the Non-Spicy Food Lover in Korea

Korean food is known worldwide for the rich flavor of spicy pepper and red pepper sauce. However, it could be alarming for a lot of travelers, or foreign residents, who are not big fans of the burning taste on their tongue. Frankly speaking, spicy food is unavoidable in most Korean restaurants or menus, however, it isn’t beyond help. There is a way around everything and today 10 Magazine will help you navigate around Korea’s fiery culinary path to its milder dishes.

First off, let’s talk about technical terms and phrases you might want to know by heart for your own sake. It is understandable that for beginners, it could be hard to pronounce these words, naturally. So we would really recommend you to at the very least jot down the ones with *** three stars!

How to say in Korean:

Is there a dish that is not spicy here?

  • 여기엔 안 매운 메뉴가 있나요? Yeogi-en an maeun menu-ga itnayo?***

I’ll have the non- spicy one, please.

  • 맵지 않은 것으로 주세요. Maeb-ji anheun geotseuro juseyo.

Please do not make it too spicy

  • 너무 맵지 않게 해주세요neomu maebji anh-ke haejuseyo.

Make it less spicy, please.

  • 덜 맵게 해주세요deol maebke haejuseyo ***

Make it not spicy, please. OR Make it just a little spicy, please.

  • 안 맵게 해주세요an maebke haejuseyo
    OR 약간 맵게 해주세요 yak-kan maebke haejuseyo ***

Is this one really spicy?

  • 이거 많이 매워요? Igeo manhi maewoyo?

What’s the least spicy one?

  • 제일 안 매운 것이 뭐예요? Jeil an maeun geotsi mwoyeyo?

I have a child so please don’t make it spicy

  • 아이가 있으니까 순한맛으로 주세요Aiga isseunikka sunhan-matsseuro juseyo

I have a child here so is there a dish that is not spicy?

  • 아이가 있는데 안 매운 메뉴가 뭐가 있나요? Aiga itneunde an maeun menu-ga mwoga itnayo?

Many times, a spicy version of a non-spicy dish is written with 얼큰 (eol–keun), such as 얼큰수제비 (spicy sujebi) or 얼큰우동 (spicy udong). In some restaurants, you can pick the spice level, or 매운맛 정도 (maeun mat jeongdo). It goes respectively from 순한맛 (soonhan mat) mild, 보통맛 (botong mat) normal, 매운맛 (maeun mat) spicy, 아주 매운맛 (aju maeun mat) super spicy. They will usually be in this order, or sometimes the levels are denoted by red pepper icons, so it’s not essential to memorize them. But the more you know, the better!

Mild Alternatives

There alternate menus you could order at some restaurant, though it is not guaranteed that it will be offered everywhere, but you could try to search or ask for the option. For example, instead of the typical 떡볶이 (tteokbokki), there is a dish called 짜장떡볶이 (jjajangtteokbokki). It’s like Jjajangmyeon but instead of noodles, it’s rice cake (tteok). They’re equally delicious and not spicy, double win!

However, note that every restaurant has different recipes and the menus in the intermediate level could be beyond advanced level, too, if you are unlucky. So, pick the restaurant wisely, or memorize the given phrases well enough beforehand!

One last small tip, if the menus are ever too spicy for you to handle, try order 주먹밥 (the rice you squeeze into balls) or 콜피스 (cool-peace, the yogurt drink) as it will lessen the painful burn on your tongue. If you’re eating at home or a convenience store, have milk instead of water to wash down the spice and save yourself from turning lobster-red! They’ll really help!

*Reference: 10 Magazine (Link)