Eating as a vegetarian in Korea. A must-know culture! Vegetarian Korean food is still a growing field.
- More and more alternatives to dishes with meat and fish find their way into restaurants and street markets. But did you know about some of the vegetarian Korean food yet? If not, let's start off now!
What is it like eating Vegetarian Korean Food?
“Vegetarian” doesn’t mean the same thing all across the world. While western countries understand a diet completely free from fish and meat as vegetarian, eastern countries, such as South Korea only exclude read meat when they consider something vegetarian.
Knowing that fact it is still easy to make it understandable that you also do not want food with white meat, fish, or seafood in it.
These ingredients are of course a staple in Korean cuisine and not many Korean themselves are vegetarian.
But believe me; you will not starve if you visit South Korea as a vegetarian. You just have to know what you are looking for.
Eating in restaurants as a vegetarian!
Your safest bet when visiting a restaurant with friends that are non-vegetarians and they want to try Korean BBQ is to stick to side dishes.
Korean side dishes are called Banchan and are actually 90% vegetables. You will be able to order a bowl of rice at every restaurant across the board and just mix them.
Together with some soy sauce or some gochujang sauce, which is a sauce made out of Korean red hot chili peppers; you can create your own delicious bibimbap, a mixed rice bowl with toppings of your choice.
This will leave you with a nourishing meal and you don’t have to just watch your friends enjoy their own food while staying hungry.
Most restaurants that serve meat will also have Jjigae on their menu. It is a Korean stew that is very warming which is great during the colder month.
The broth is seasoned with gochujang, doenjang (soybean paste), or ganjang (soy sauce).
The original recipe includes meat but vegetable options are available as well, most of the time topped with some tofu.
A dish where the original version is vegetarian would be kimbap. These Korean rice rolls are wrapped in roasted seaweed sheets and filled with all kinds of vegetables.
Street vendors and restaurants as well as grocery stores sell these delicacies. And as long as they are not special kinds with meat or fish you will be safe as a vegetarian
If you order any meal you will want to confirm with the seller that they understood your request for meat and a fish-free version of the dish.
Sometimes there are just cultural differences between understanding a request so make sure to double-check and do not hold your standards over the head of the other person.
You will be most likely to find a solution to find a food that you can enjoy without hurting your morals or religious believes.
Image credits Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash
How to cook vegetarian Korean food?
If you want to cook food yourself that originated in Korean cuisine you have all the freedom to alternate the recipes to your liking.
For example, the traditional Korean kimchi, a fermented cabbage coated in a delicious marinade made out of gochugaru, the flakes of the Korean red chili pepper is made with fish sauce and fermented shrimps.
Image credits okonomikitchen.com
But first of all, there are also versions that you can buy which are made with soy sauce instead of fish sauce, and secondly when you make it yourself just change out those two ingredients as well and leave the shrimps out.
Image credits theguardian.com
You might lose a little bit of the rich taste of the traditional kimchi but it will still taste amazing.
You can watch this video from Maangchi down below. She shows you how to make veggie kimchi step-by-step.
How good are street market and vegetarian Korean food?
If you happen to come across a street market here are some foods that you can definitely try as a vegetarian.
First of all, are Mung bean pancakes (빈대떡). These Korean pancakes are made out of ground mung bean batter that is fried in hot oil. Before putting it into the oil other ingredients are added. Mostly vegetables but you can specifically ask for a vegetarian option.
The mung bean pancakes made a guest appearance in the Street Food episode of Gwangjang market in Seoul which aired on Netflix.
You can still find the vendors there and try the delicious creation of Geumsoon Park who has worked the stall for over 40 years and now runs it with her daughter Sangmi Chu.
Image credits maangchi.com
Second, we got Yachaejeon. They are pancakes as well but this time purely consisting out of vegetables with a little bit of flour to keep them sticking together.
They are fried in oil and served as snacks. The crunchiness of the pancakes is immaculate and they are healthy as well.
Image credits ahnesty.com
Another snack that you might enjoy is roasted chestnuts. They are called Bam (밤) in Korean and are a very popular street food item that you can find nearly everywhere.
They are great to eat during the colder season since they will keep your fingers warm while carrying them around.
Vendors roast them in big pans mostly over an open fire until the shells crack open, so you can easily peel them apart to enjoy the soft inner fruit. And they are of course vegetarian.
What are the types of Vegetarian Korean restaurants?
If you look for something special and exclusively vegetarian you can visit a Buddhist monastery restaurant.
Buddhism has a completely vegetarian cuisine, so you will have all the options there. These kinds of restaurants are a bit on the pricier side though.
We recommend the Balwoo Gongyang restaurant in 56 Ujeongguk-ro, Gyeonji-dong, Seoul which comes with a whopping 4/5 star rating on TripAdvisor.
Image credits tripadvisor.com
You will also be able to find Loving Hut Restaurants in South Korea, which is an international chain of restaurants that sells vegan and vegetarian food.
But unlike Burger King or McDonald's which you can also find in South Korea, Loving Hut sells Korean dishes in a vegetarian and vegan version.
Their menu differs from place to place orientating themselves on the cuisine in the country they are selling their food in.
Image credits lovinghut.kr
While looking for restaurants that sell vegetarian food your best finds will obviously be in Seoul. Seoul is the capital of South Korea and one of the fastest evolving cities in the country.
The choices here are endless. To name a few, there is Grain, a cute café that sells meals from brunch to dinner in a healthy variety.
The specialty here is that you can choose from a list of ingredients that is very vegetarian-friendly. The food is not Korean though; the menu has a very European touch.
The brunches here are praised by customers that tried their hands on the customizable delicacies.
Image credits tripadvisor.com
One of the most famous vegetarian and vegan restaurants can be found in Itaewon- dong. "Plant" is exactly what it sounds like.
A plant-based restaurant that sells a variety of dishes and has its own bakery in Seoul as well. You can find anything from burgers over to cakes, salads, pasta, and patisserie.
Image credits happycow.net
What did we get to know about vegetarian Korean food?
Today we looked at the options you have when you eat as a vegetarian in South Korea. We hope that it is less frightening now to travel there.
We really don't want you to miss out on Korean food! And if you are looking for Korean snacks that are completely vegetarian we highly recommend that you try the Seoulbox V, our veggie version of the Seoulbox Signature.
And with the code spooky15, you can even save 15% off your order! Don' miss out on that opportunity! (CLICK HERE!)
Did you ever visit South Korea as a vegetarian? What are your experiences? Let us know in the comments down below!
Author - Kris