I have been vegetarian for almost twelve years, and have more recently tried to cut out dairy and other animal products. It hasn’t been easy here in Korea, but it’s become a way of life for me, and more of an ethical and deliberate mindset rather than something that’s purely about the health benefits (although they are vast).
“Non-violence and kindness to living beings in kindness to oneself.”
When I first got to Korea, it was quite the change after coming from the veggie-friendly Thailand. Eating a cruelty-free and plant-based diet can be very challenging, but it is doable. Korea was recently named by the Huffington Post as one of the worst countries to visit as a vegan, and that’s probably because a lot of Koreans have just started wrapping their heads around the idea of veganism and vegetarianism. I actually recently went out with a Korean guy who spent the whole date questioning my protein intake, and worrying that I was severely nutrition deprived. I was worried he thought I would collapse on the table right then and there.
Being Vegetarian in Korea
I consumed a lot of bibimbap ( 비빔밥) when I first got to Seoul (and it’s still one of my favorites), although I was able to branch out after learning more of the language and some of other dishes. Here is my survival guide to being vegetarian in Korea.
I’m a vegetarian.
(Jeoneun chaesikjuuija imnida. )
I’m a vegan.
저는 비건 채식주의자입니다.
(Jeoneun Bigeon Chaesikjuuija imnida.)
Which dishes are vegetarian?
요리 중 어떤 것이 채식 요리입니까?
(Yori jung eotteon geosi chaesik yori imnikka?)
Korean Food To Try
Bibimbap [ 비빔밥 ]: Bibimbap is my favorite Korean dish. It is a bowl filled with rice, assorted veggies, and sometimes egg (make sure to request it without if you are vegan!)
Kimchi [ 김치 ]: Kimchi is delicious fermented vegetables (usually cabbage). Vegetarians must be careful that the kimchi is not made with fish sauce (액젓).
(Spam free) Gimbap [ 김밥 ] Gimpap is kind of like the Korean equivalent of sushi, although sometimes they sneak spam or ham into ‘veggie rolls.’ In Korea, spam is an honorary vegetable, so make sure the waiter is clear on your needs.
Jap chae [ 잡채 ]: Jap chae is a glass-noodle dish that is served cold. Make sure to check that the restaurant doesn’t serve it with meat.
Restaurants in Seoul
PLANT is one of the most well-known vegan restaurants in Seoul, and has a menu that changes ever couple of weeks. PLANT offers wraps, fresh salads, and even has a delicious avocado sandwich (which is rare to find in Seoul!) They also make their own baked goods and have vegan brownies, cakes and cookies.
How to get there: Go out of Itaewon Station Exit 4, walk straight until you see Sneak Soul (a shoe store). Turn left onto the small alleyway with steps. Cross the intersecting road and go straight into the next and so straight into the alleyway next to Greek on the Grill. PLANT will be on your right.
Everest is not a vegan restaurant, but it’s very vegetarian and vegan friendly. It’s an expat favorite, and has everything you could expect and more. It’s tucked down a little back alley in Dongdaemun, and the menu has curries, naan bread, samosas and more. There is a vegetarian section on the menu, and the owners are very accommodating and will modify your order to vegetarian/vegan if you ask.
How to get there: Take a train to Dongdaemun Station and walk straight out of Exit 3. Take the first left next to the pharmacy. Walk straight and then take the first right, Everest should be in front of you.
If you are craving a good salad, Bad Farmers is the place to go. Bad Farmers is also not vegan or vegetarian, but has plenty of options.Salads are served in paper take-away boxes, and there are plenty of greens to go around. They also have fresh, pressed juices with plenty of veggies and fruits.
How to get there: From Exit 8 of Sinsa Station, walk straight and turn onto Garosu-gil. Walk straight for about 300 meters and turn left when you see the Cloth Dictionary shop. Walk straight about 50 meters and turn right at the crossroads, then turn left when you see a 7/11. Walk straight about 30 meters and turn right onto the first street. Walk straight and Bad Farmers will be on your left.
Loving Hut is a chain vegan restaurant and has several locations across Korea, although the menu differs from location to location. It sources fresh, locally grown ingredients and has some great veggie lookalikes such a tofu steak and soy cutlet.
How to get there: Seoul, Gangnam-gu, Gaepo-dong 1218-16. The map via Loving Hut takes you there perfectly.
Sanchon is on the pricier end of the spectrum, but it’s worth it. Sanchon serves traditional Korean food in a beautiful setting, and is located in the tourist-friendly Insadong. Sanction serves Buddhist temple food, and is entirely vegan. The ambience is great here, and you get to sit on cushions on the floor surrounded by lotus-shaped lanterns, which adds to the atmosphere.
How to get there: Anguk Subway Station (Line 3). Take Exit 6. It’s quite hard to find this place as it is tucked down one of Insadong’s many back alleys. Check out the map here.
Order and Delivery Services
Sprout is a whole-food, vegan meal preparation service. They use completely natural and whole foods that will help you live a healthier and more holistic lifestyle. Sprout is not a restaurant, but rather a weekly pick-up service that is open every Sunday from 6pm-8pm. They sometimes allow pick-up of leftovers on the following Monday.
How to get there: Get off a Noksapyeong Station and take Exit 2. Walk straight until you get to a grey overpass. Cross the overpass and go down the elevator. Turn left onto the small street by Bakers Table.
Gachi CSA provides fresh, organic produce that is delivered to your doorstep. The owners are very helpful and it is geared toward the expat community. Their standard box comes with eggs in it, but there is a vegan option as well as bread and fruit add-ons. I love this service, but found that I wasn’t using it as much as I could because I am not the best cook.
So, anywhere I missed? Any tips for the vegan or vegetarian in Seoul?