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Posted by on Sep 25, 2009 in Commentary, Korean Culture | 4 comments

Koreans and eating leftovers

Koreans and eating leftovers

Koreans do not have a culture of eating leftovers, however with the increasing amount of food waste clogging up their landfills, the Korean government has spent the past 10-plus years encouraging Korean families to eat leftovers — rather than throw them in the trash — to save landfill space.

I found this British website that has a lot of helpful recipes using leftovers. Lovefood/Hatewaste features recipes for leftover rice, peppers, sweet potatoes, and other foods common to Korean cuisine (even if the recipes are not Korean or Korean-style).

The best Korean recipe for using up leftovers is bibimbap.  The word bibimbap means “mixed-up rice.”  After you put small servings of bean sprouts, kimchi, mushrooms, spinach, zucchini and a fried egg into your bowl and mix it up with some gochujang, you will have the best tasting leftovers in your neighborhood.

However, Koreans who don’t want to eat their leftovers — or restaurants who can’t recycle leftovers due to hygienic concerns — are required to place their food remnants in special bags, which can be purchased at area grocery or convenience stores. These bags are for food scraps that are edible for animals.

But some restaurants in Korea are getting tired of throwing away food, even though someone’s already paid for it. There’s a restaurant in southern Seoul that gives out coupon for free yogurt to customers who don’t leave food on their tray.

Koreans and Americans recycle their food scraps differently and have different criteria for defining what type of food waste is recyclable. The Korean emphasis is on recycling edible food waste, while the American emphasis is on inedible yard waste. For example, teabags and coffee grounds are verboten for Korean recycling but are encouraged in America. On the other hand, Americans aren’t supposed to recycle leftover beef or other meat, but Koreans are encouraged to recycle cooked meat.

Koreans dehydrate a lot of their food waste as well. There are special food dehydrators sold in Korean markets for this purpose. They’re a bit pricey, but the alternative of a stinky apartment is even worse. 

For more information on Korea’s recycling program guidelines, go here.


  1. I miss the taste of bibimbap in Seoul. There is nothing like it in Montreal

  2. Yeah, there's nothing like eating Korean food in Korea.

  3. I would think those tiny food waste bags would actually encourage eating leftovers because they fill up so fast and then you have to buy more, you can't just use any old plastic bag like in the US.

  4. Now you understand why a lot of Korean dehydrate the food waste. It lessens the volume and the smell and they make use of those tiny food scrap recycling bags!

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