Last month I visited Seoul, South Korea, Here's a look at something I ate from my trip. For more, check out the rest of my Snapshots from South Korea.
For a city where most people don't speak English, Seoul does a good job (and seems to be constantly trying to improve) accommodating English-speaking tourists and expats. Metro announcements are made in Korean and English, streets signs have English translations, and every taxi has a sticker with a phone number you can call if you need a translator. But what if you're clueless about Korean food? Tourists without a Korean speaker by their side may end up ordering something they don't like, or forgo a meal altogether since they can't read the menu.
An electronic menu console in the form of a touchscreen PDA was developed by the the Seoul Tourism Organization (STO) to help non-Korean speakers order food at a restaurant. The console provides photos along with ingredient and preparation information about the restaurant's dishes in English, Japanese, and Chinese, and allows customers to place their order through the console. Maureen O'Crowley, Senior Director of International Marketing & Conventions for the STO, says that the idea came from her boss, Samuel Koo, who thinks the console's photos and information will be a great help to those who aren't knowledgeable about Korea food.
The console is currently being used at four Korean restaurants—Doore, Goongyeon, Daerimjung, and Hanwoori—and one Chinese restaurant—Dongchao—all picked by the STO. So far the response from customers has been positive, but while the participating restaurants also think it's a good device, they're concerned about the price—2.5 million (about $1,940) per console, which includes the costs of making the contents. Considering that the menu consoles were just released in January, the price should go down from here.
While I'm lucky that my personal "menu console" during my trip was the group of Seoul residents who brought me around the city and acted as my translators, not everyone else can be so lucky. The first time I ate bibimbap in New York City I didn't even know I was supposed to mix it until the waitress looked at me funnily, grabbed my chopsticks, and did it for me. On retrospect, it seems like it was obvious, but I'm surely not the only person who's ever made that mistake. Right? [tumbleweed rolls by]