In some places it’s easy to be vegan. In California, you can walk into a greasy-spoon breakfast joint and find yourself enjoying this kind of interaction: “Yeah, I’ll have the tofu omelet with the almond cheese, a fruit cup with no grapes, and a café au lait with the unsweetened hemp milk, please. Oh! And a slice of the vegan wheat-fee-gluten-free organic fruit-juice-sweetened cake made with lemons. I’ll take one to go.”
Upon arriving in Korea, there was no definitive evidence either way about what veganism would be like. Stories came from both sides; some people saying that meat is often put on the side like an afterthought and others describing even vegetarianism as “simply impossible” and that I’d have to be “entirely self-reliant.” Meaning granola bars and apples. From my bag. Forever. All I really knew for sure is that it would be a challenge, a supposition that proved to be accurate.
But the thing is, being vegan in Korea is all about flexibility. In fact, after a few months of practice, lots of errors and even more unexpected successes, this change has turned me into a better vegan. I had to become more adaptable, less rigid, and much less now-I-have-to-send-it-back in my severity about eating.
Daily vegan eating patterns around here are remarkably similar to those in other places, tweaked and altered to fit your environs. Ordering things from the internet and from generous friends overseas will not be the backbone of your diet, but rather, the fluff that makes life a little bit tastier. Living off of things shipped in boxes is out of the question when there is a veritable feast of delicious Korean bounty all around you.
Cooking vegan Korean
The daily staples of a Korean vegan frequently include:
- Soy milk; a million different yummy varieties are available
- Frozen fruit; for smoothies and general enjoyment
- Tons of vegetables
- Brown or white rice
- Tofu; wonderfully delicious in Korea due to the centuries of practice in making it
- An expat herbivore cooking at home should also look into curry paste, lentils (bought at one of the foreign markets), beans, tortillas and noodles to make all manner of veggie wraps, burritos, soups and pizzas with homemade tofu cheese. Eating at home is the keystone of any vegan’s diet, so keeping things interesting is imperative. And when Japanese eggplants only cost 400 won, who wouldn’t search for enlightenment in the kitchen?
Dinners out are easier than you might think. Seoul has a fabulous array of restaurants serving food from around the world, from Arabian falafel to Bulgarian red bean salads and French baguette. In addition, a growing number of establishments are offering fantastic vegan fare straight out of their English/Korean menus — no special requests from the kitchen needed. Here are a few favorites:
Cook and Book Café
Animal-free sandwiches, salads, smoothies and milkshakes abound at Cook and Book Café in Hongdae. Get a dark chocolate brownie and an affogato for dessert, or have a go at the vegan cheesecake.
Directions: Okay, this will sounds complicated but stick to these directions and you’ll make it. Sangsu Station, Exit 1. Walk straight up Wausan-ro to Hongik University. As you keep walking, you’ll pass one GS25 on the right. When you see another GS25 (again on the right), turn left down the narrow street. This is the third left beyond Hongik University. Walk about three blocks, turning right when you see Chocolate Cake on the right hand side. Cook and Book is located in a small alley on the left.
Gecko’s (locations in Itaewon and Bundang) has an exceptionally huge, exceptionally delicious veggie burger and a great assortment of homemade, meat-and-cream-free pastas. Don’t forget the beer.
Itaewon Location: Itaewon Station, Exit 3. At the street level, turn around. Take the next left and you will see Gecko’s on the right.
Bundang Location: From Jukjeon Station, take bus #40 or #24. The bus will curve around Shinsegae and E-mart, and then make a left turn down Jukjeon-ro. Get off at Home Plus Express (three stops down) and walk one block, passing Angel-In-Us on the right. Gecko’s is located on the ninth floor of the tall building ahead.
Botton in Noksapyeong is a cozy haven for those craving soy lattes and a vegan cupcake or two. Pies, cookies and biscotti are also ripe for the choosing and pair nicely with their lovely coffees.
Directions: Itaewon Station, Exit 1. Walk straight, past What the Book, until you’ve nearly reached the end of Itaewon-ro. Just beyond the North Face store, there is a road that veers to the right and up a steep hill. Go up the hill, passing Cup & Bowl and The Hillside Bar. Botton will be on the right.
Fell + Cole
Lingering summery dreams of ice cream can be made a reality at Fell + Cole in Hongdae. The inventive dairy-free flavors like Strawberry Wine Szechwan Pepper and Chococo Almond Butter are enchanting, even as the winter approaches.
Directions: Sangsu Station, Exit 1. Walk straight up Wausan-ro for two minutes. Turn left at the 7-11 and walk 2 blocks down. Fell + Cole will be on the left under a bright yellow awning.
Loving Hut Buffet
Starved? Waiting for your first paycheck? Head over to Achasan for the 100 percent vegan Loving Hut Buffet. The dizzying variety and economical price tag (12,000 won) help this location to stand out in the emerging crowd of posh all-you-can-eats.
Eastern Seoul: Located directly outside Achasan Station, Exit 1, on the second floor.