Samgyeopsal, Chimaek, Bulgogi, et cetera, et cetera. Famous Korean dishes you could think of are usually meat-based. Some “mukbang” YouTubers even eat a couple of dozens of meats at once.
So far, many vegetarians based in Korea have cooked vegetarian dishes by themselves. Jason M. Fergurson (from Canada, now living in Seoul), who has been a vegetarian since 1986, says he usually cooks to keep his vegetarian diet.
However, vegetarianism has now emerged as a new trend in Korea. Many vegetarian restaurants are newly open, attracting various types of vegetarians as well as potential vegetarians. I met a newbie vegetarian–technically, flexitarian–and asked what it is like to be a vegetarian in Korea.
A flexitarian diet is centered on plant foods with the occasional inclusion of meat. Su Ryun Na, an elementary school teacher in Seoul, recently decided to become a flexitarian. “I watched a film Okja and realized how cruel killing animal for food is. That’s when I first decided to start a vegetarian diet,” she says.
But it was not an easy journey. She has enjoyed eating meat for her entire life, especially when she gets stressed or tired. “So I started from a small step. I identified myself as a flexitarian and tried to have vegetarian meals when I’m home, or I eat alone.”
Her workplace was another obstacle, though. “Every day I have lunch at a school cafeteria. And almost every day, I see some kinds of meat-based dishes.” She found it so hard to keep her vegetarian diet at work. “I try to prepare for a vegetarian lunch box, but it’s hard to do it every day.”
She says it’s hard to find a vegetarian restaurant in Seoul (even though some vegetarian restaurants are newly opening these days), so she couldn’t eat out vegetarian that often. “I found some restaurants in Mangwon-dong or Hapjeong-dong, but options are pretty limited,” she bitterly said.
Well, it doesn’t sound easy to become a vegetarian in Korea. But don’t be disappointed too early. I said it’s hard to find vegetarian places, but didn’t say there was none. Jason, who has been a vegetarian for more than 30 years, and Su Ryun recommended their favorite vegetarian restaurants in Seoul.
1. Plant Café – Itaewon
Just 2 minutes from the Itaewon station by walk. You can have a course of vegan meals here, from appetizers to desserts and beer. Its signature dish is Lentil Veggie Bowl, a colorful and nutritious vegetable bowl you can enjoy.
2. Around Green – Mangwon
Visit this cozy restaurant in Mangwon, which is 10 minutes from Hongdae by car. You can visit the restaurant, or even deliver dishes to wherever you are. It’s famous for its Tofu Teriyaki dish and Triple Mushroom Pizza.
3. New Zealand Story – Jamsil
It is not a vegetarian restaurant, but you can enjoy vegan-enough dishes here, especially when you’re with a non-vegetarian friend. Located right next to beautiful Seokchon Lake Park, New Zealand Story serves vegetarian salad plates, including Greek Salad Plate, Thai Salad Plate, and Egyptian Salad Plate.