Recently I was away from home and hungry. Seeing a place called "Korea Food" or something like that, I figured that the lack of English grammar might indicate some authentic food, so I stopped for dinner. After ordering, I sat there for a while, still hungry, waiting for food, wishing that they'd bring my ban chan, so I would have something to eat. Finally, the ban chan showed up about 15 seconds before my black goat tang. As I was eating a family of six came in and while they looked to be of Korean ancestry, they spoke no Korean. They ordered various meat barbecues, and after waiting for a while, they tried to get the waitress to bring them ban chan before the main course showed up, but because of language difficulties their ban chan arrived with the rest of their food.
This got me thinking. Ban chan is usually translated "side dish." But most Korean restaurants that I've eaten at in the United States bring ban chan to the table well before the main course, sortof like a Korean equivalent of chips and salsa. Is this a case where Korean restaurateurs have adapted to an American preference for multi-course meals and appetizers, or can ban chan traditionally be served either before or with a meal?