How to order at a Kimbap Restaurant, the healthy fast food joints in Korea

Last Updated on August 8, 2017 by Christine Kaaloa

kimbap restaurants in korea

In Korea, it often feels like there are never any really fat Koreans (…okay, they are exceptions; but it’s rare)!  Obesity is not a chronic problem in Korea, as it is in the west.  One theory is owned to how Koreans eat healthy.   Korea may have restaurant chains like McDonalds and Burger King, but they aren’t a ‘fast food’ kind of country.

Frozen or microwave foods ?  Koreans like their food fresh.

Preservatives?  The keyword is fermented.

Koreans do however, occasionally like their meals served simple, cheap and pali! pali (fast)!

Kimbap restaurants chains are the healthy equivalent to fast food joints.

The meals they sell are often thought of as “simple home foods”, which are made quickly and sold cheaply. Most of the dishes on the menu is under 5,000 won.  Kimbap (sushi rolls), jigae (stews),  ramen or udon (noodles dishes) and rice meals such as bibimbap are all standard platter of most kimbap shops (photo examples here). Order it as takeout or dine in; either way, your dish comes with a small plate of panchan (or side dishes).

IMG 8060Soon dubujigae with banchan side dishes.

How to order at a kimbap restaurant:

At first you may not know how to place an order at a kimbap shop. Are there picture menus or menus in English? Hah!  Does the outdoor sign read : K-I-M-B-A-P ?  Seldom. So how does one recognize a kimbap shop or order from it?


•  Memorizing the menu

Let’s say you don’t read a lick of hangul. Knowing what you want and how to order is all you need to know!

Until you can read Korean, memorize the names of the foods you’ll want to order. has an excellent breakdown and translation of Kimbap Nara‘s menu (a brand of kimbap joints) and Katie’s Korean Adventure has examples of the food in kimbap restaurants .

• Decoding the Menus

Staring at the menus might have a dizzying effect– they look like a Korean multiple choice quiz– until you realize they’re organized by category. Recognizing the categories above will help you locate your dishes quicker.  They might change slightly according to restaurant, but they typically range from:

  • 김밥    kimbap = sushi rolls
  •  식사   shiksa  =  general meals (with or without rice)
  • 찌개    ji-gae   = soups
  •           bunshik  = meals with noodles
    i.e.   면   ramyeon = ramen noodles   우동   udon  = thick white noodles

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Photo credit:  A kimbap restaurant menu. The numbers in the boxes are the number count of dishes on this menu. There are 72 dishes.

How to place an order at a kimbap restaurant:

Placing at an order at a kimbap restaurant isn’t hard. When you roll in and sit down, you’ll see a menu pad on the edge of your table. Check the item and quantity you want in the item box or you can order it directly from the ajumma waitress. Your ajumma may be sweet or a bit rough around the corners, as if life’s dealt her more blows than a NYC waitress. Don’t take it personally; that’s just ajummas, in general!

If you know what you want, then you can rattle it off:

•  ” ……. issoyo?”  (Do you have ……?)

•  “……. chuseyo”  (…….., please)

How to order Korean food you’re a Vegetarian: To baego or not to baego

If you’re a vegetarian, you’d probably want to know how to order korean food.

Generally, every dish will have a bit of fish or seafood splash to it. If you want to remain meat and ocean-free, then kimbap (sushi roll) is your best bet (approx. $1.30-$2.00, it’s also the cheapest thing on the menu)! But you’ll still have to baego it. Baego means the equivalent to “without” or “hold”. Knowing it has been a life-saver.

•  Baego kieran (without egg)

•  Baego kogi (without meat)

For instance, I might say:

“Yache kimbap chuseyo. Baego keran, baego kogi.”
Translation: I’ll have vegetable kimbap, please. Hold the eggs, hold the meat)

Then watch to see if they prepare it the way you asked.  Koreans don’t always see eggs and seafood as “meat” so you’ll have to watch them as they make it. Sometimes, I don’t think they even see ham as meat because occasionally, I’ll catch an ajumma sneaking it in.

Vegetarians will have a challenge with ordering Korean food, but once you get the hang of it, it gets a little easier.


Where are the utensils at a kimbap restaurant?

Your waitress has come with your dish, drops it before you and walks away. Where are the chopsticks? Can I at least get a napkin?

At a kimbap restaurant, it’s  all self-serve when it comes to utensils.  There will be a wooden or plastic box and if you lift the lid, you’ll see metal chopsticks and spoons.

How to recognize a kimbap shop?

Kimbap restaurants usually have franchises or chains and they seem to be everywhere. How do you recognize one? They almost always have blasting signs if you pay attention. On the outside:

  • A garishly, bright orange sign which have the word 김밥  kimbap.

kimbap restaurants in korea

  • Open 24 hours: You’ll see “24” somewhere in their advertising.
  • You may see happy, dancing kimbap painted on window or signs.

kimbap restaurants

  • Inside, there’s a kimbap counter near the door entrance, as kimbap is the quickest takeout food to serve. The a counter with all the kimbap fixings.


IMG 8130

Have you ever eaten at a kimbap joint? Any tips or recommendations you’ve discovered?

Related Posts

* Korea tips & stays, Food Travel Guides for Foodies, Korea, Vegetarian Life


  • francaangloitalian
    January 28, 2015 7:01 am

    We weren’t either vegans or vegetarians yet when we visited South Korea but I remember loving so much Kimbap, so healthy and delicious! I wish we had this very handy guide back then 🙂

  • […] (bindaetteok or nokdujeon; mung bean pancakes). Ellen also introduced me to the ubiquitous kimbap restaurants, easily identified by their orange signs and standard, inexpensive menu. These places offer fast […]

  • Hi Christine! Thank you for this post. I had some difficulty ordering food in Korea when I went there two years ago with some friends as I don’t fancy kimchi that much. I am preparing for my solo 10-day solo travel to South Korea in March 2013 and I’m reading and browsing helpful blogs. This is helpful for me memorizing or rather saving a picture of hangul translation of kimbap- i think that would be my source of survival :-). Thanks a lot, have been reading your travel blog and I’d be getting most of your inputs for my 3D/2N in Jeju as part of my 10-day travel. More power!!!

  • […] to add to my menu. As restaurants fill with patrons ordering samgyetang, I will be sneaking into a kimbap joint and slurping away the dog days of Korean […]

  • […] info on how to order and some more generalized tips check out the always interesting grrrltraveler’s website.  For in depth analysis on what’s on the menu, have a look at the ‘mary eats’ […]

  • […] sometimes stays in Korea. I was too chicken to gamble. Then, I was floored to find my favorite kimbap restaurant food, the soft spicy tofu soup ( aka soon dubu jigae) was $12! While Red House Honolulu is a cute K-pop […]

  • […] talking about plastered across the walls. (For more info, check out Christine’s post about “The Healthy Fast Food”.) How do you begin to order if you don’t know Korean? Well, I’ve had to rely on the […]

  • Great post, Christine! I’ve got an orange restaurant guide over on my blog, too – they’re necessary in order to decipher the tasty goodness on offer!

    Kimbap Naduri and Kimbap Nara are my favourites – never really liked Kimbap Cheonguk, their menu simply doesn’t cut it!

    I could just do with some bibimbap right now, or donkasseu, or ohmygod rabokki (the ramen with ddeokbokki), with a roll of tuna kimbap on the side. Ahh 배고파!

    • @Tom: Haven’t tried the Rabokki but sounds like a diet killer and yet, carby good! I’m a fan of Soon Dubujigae. Bigtime! When I visited korea for a job interview recently, I spent half my week at those shops. In Daegu I just go to Kimpasa. No real preference yet. =)

  • Laura in Cancun
    September 29, 2011 3:57 am

    So jealous! Wish I could find more healthy, cheap and quick stuff in the US.

  • Aside form Subway (questionable) I’d like to see the US come up with some healthy fastfood places like this. Shoot, I wouldn’t mind seeing Bimbab shops sprouting up all over if you ask me. I love Asian food and would love some more healthy and tasty options.

  • […] info on how to order and some more generalized tips check out the always interesting grrrltraveler’s website.  For in depth analysis on what’s on the menu, have a look at the ‘mary eats’ […]

  • I’m from Busan, South Korea. Its called 김밥. Its Korean, not Japanese Hawaian fusion cooking. It doesn’t have crab meat.

    Rice, radish, cucumber and ham wrapped in seaweed paper. There are different variations, but my point is that 김밥 is not a sushi roll.

    Furthermore, its not delicious.

    • @Ryder: My point is that it’s called different things in different countries and whether it’s originated in SKorea is questionable. Duk is mochi is rice cake. Whether or not you consider it delicious or not is your opinion and my kimbap did have crab meat in Seoul, Busan & in Daegu.

  • kimbap aren’t sushi rolls. There’s no fish in kimbap.

    • @Ryder; I’m curious as to what you’d call kimbap where you’re from. 😉 Being part Japanese from Hawaii, my grandmother used to make us “kimbaps” all the time… it was called maki sushi. In Hawaii, we categorize kimbap as sushi. Many caucausian folk assume “sushi” as being raw fish on a bed of rice because that’s mostly what sells at Japanese sushi restaurants. As for the claim that there’s no fish in kimbap, there’s no sashimi (raw fish) in the kimbap…but technically, the “crab meat” they occasionally use, I’m pretty sure is serimi… which is a fish.

  • Very useful information, Christine. And aside from the sushi (I don’t like raw fish), I have to say, I really like their idea of “fast food.”

    • @Gray: Ah, no raw fish sushi? The kimbaps aren’t so fishy as the contents are mostly what they can store simply at the ounter– crab meat, spam, etc.. It’s very “made-to-go” style. But raw fish huh?…My next post may not be very fun for you.

  • This is a cool kimbap tutorial! 🙂 I’m going to send this around!

    • @Tamar: Thanks for commenting and the RT! I’m always pleasantly surprised when I come across other K-blogging sites and I like yours. I don’t come across many foodie ones with recipes! 😉

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