Many people–especially in Korea–don’t know what the term vegan means exactly. And before you ask, yes, being vegan and vegetarian are two separate things. And no, it doesn’t mean you only eat vegetables. Though they call being vegan ‘plant-based’, there is an abundance of wholesome vegan recipes crafted to replace the taste of non-vegan foods, such as meat.
So, what exactly does vegan mean? Being vegan means eating NO animal products (a.k.a anything made from animals). Things like milk, cheese, eggs, and so on are completely off limits. It can get a little tricky because many products from mayonnaise to most breads contain dairy.
Being vegan in the States is super convenient. There is almost always an aisle dedicated to vegan alternatives and the packaging, with labels that state “vegan” “gluten-free,” and “non-gmo,” make them easy to identify. Heck, there are whole stores dedicated to healthy eats. Need I remind you of Whole Foods and Trader Joes?? You’re bound to find heaps of vegan alternatives there!
However, over here in Korea…let’s just say it took me a few tries to find a good alternative for something as simple as a carton of milk. Having tried living as a vegan in Korea for a bit now now, I have overcome all the struggles that come with that territory. To help you skip the stress, I’ve gathered a few of my favorite hacks and they have all made it super easy for me to adapt to vegan eating in Seoul:
If there is one MUST-KNOW website in Korea for fast shipping, quality products, and most importantly, items you can’t find in Korea, it’s certainly iHerb. I’m usually not a big fan of ordering online, but this website is efficient, easy to use, and totally affordable. The products are sent from California and they get to your doorstep in a week or less. The shipping fee is surprisingly cheap as well! iHerb has almost everything you’d need for your vegan diet. They sell everything from vegan energy bars to gluten-free oatmeal!
Hyundai Department Store’s Food Mart/International Food Markets
If you have the chance to stop by Itaewon for your groceries, you will find that there are international food markets scattered everywhere in the neighborhood. The biggest, and most well known, goes by the name of High Street Market and it is located near Hangangjin station. You can find various western brands that are vegan and gluten-free there! You may also find fruits and vegetables there that are not as abundantly sold in Korean marts. Even though there may be more options in Itaewon’s international food markets, you might not always want to make that trip. Luckily for you, your local Hyundai Department Store’s food mart also has vegan options! I was happy to find that they sold Almond Milk in large cartons there, and even had beauty essentials such as virgin coconut oil and apple cider vinegar.
Note: Keep in mind that the department store’s western imports may be a bit pricey precisely because they’re imported goods!
I’d like to share my FAVORITE vegan restaurant, which is one of the very few vegan establishments in Korea! Plant Cafe & Kitchen is one of my go-to spots for delicious everyday vegan meals. All of their alternative dishes are 100% vegan, and the best thing about them is their VARIETY. They have over 10 dishes, categorized into starters + salads, sandwiches + wraps, mains, and burgers. They also have a wide range of drinks such as smoothies, juice, and even vegan lattes and light alcohol. My meat-loving friends were mind-blown at how similar the taste was to the real stuff, and were impressed at how light it made them feel.
Another place I’d like to recommend is the Morococo Café in Haebangchon. Their food is pilaf-style with veggies and meat over rice. Though Morococo Café isn’t specifically a vegan establishment, they offer a vegan option made up of tofu, eggplant, and other deliciously cooked vegetables. My friend ordered a chicken dish but she ended up reaching into my vegan dish more often than her own! She even declared that she would order mine her next visit.
Soak Insider Tip: At most restaurants in Itaewon, you can customize your dish to be vegan even if they don’t have a separate vegan option! This area tends to have more foreign customers whom are more cultured in the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, so the customer service caters to those needs more often than not. Make sure to ask thoroughly about what is in the food, and they should be able to take out or replace certain ingredients with alternatives!
Vegan Korean Food
With a bit of knowledge about Korean food, you should be able to pick some vegan choices off the menu. I would say that generally most TRADITIONAL Korean food is packed with nutrients and can be adapted for vegan eating:
- Bibimbap–Without egg and meat.
- Kimchi, Seaweed
- Mushroom Tofu Stew (a.k.a. Sundoobu)
- Soba Noodles–Japanese dish but also popular in Korea.
- Porridge–I recommend checking out your local Bon Juk. Their vegan options include sweet pumpkin, red bean, and pine nut!
Soak Insider Tip: You can also stock up on microwavable porridge from your local mart to eat when you’re in a hurry!
Korea doesn’t have the convenience of packaged vegan meals, or local grocery aisles dedicated to vegan alternatives, but with these four hacks you will start to get the hang of it! Comment below and share your experience being a vegan in Korea!
Featured Image via Vegan Miam