Oftentimes the most difficult part of moving to Korea from abroad can be the transition from an environment where organic, fresh, local produce is readily available to one where these options are few and limited. As a recent transplant from Portland, OR, where farmers markets happened multiple times a week, and alternative nut milks were available at every coffee shop, this was quite a shock for me. Working as a Naturopathic doctor, I sought out healthy eating options over the past year and found these places to be helpful resources for expats, some well known and some lesser known:
1. Gachi CSA:
Short for Community Supported Agriculture, Gachi CSA is a group that allows for direct connections with local, organic farmers in the form of seasonal produce that is delivered to your door in a small box on a weekly basis. With the emphasis being on seasonal and local produce, each box contains a different combination which is determined by what is available at the time (as in, you can’t choose what you get). However, there are “add-ons” for those who want to add high quality breads, meats, and more. Gachi also organizes events such as farm tours and activities where people can get an up close look at the organic farming process; one such example is the “Kong project” where people plant a soybean and track the progress of its growth and processing into the Soybean paste 된장 over the course of a year.
Best for: those who like to cook their own meals at home, don’t mind a few surprises, and are curious about fostering a connection with the local countryside farms.
2. Champ Kitchen:
Started by two dedicated Crossfit atheletes, this service provides healthy precooked, Paleo meals in two sizes: Regular and Champ, out of their kitchen based in Itaewon. They deliver to multiple locations within Seoul for pickup on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and meals have to be reserved in increments of 3 or 6. Each week the menu changes, and the emphasis is decidedly Paleo and fitness oriented, with the calorie count and protein/carb ratios listed on each box. Despite the occasionally spartan feel of the meals, they manage to come up with new and interesting items every week (last menu included BBQ pulled pork, Baba Ganoush, and Garlic Pepper Shrimp) and the convenience of heating up a healthy meal in 3 minutes feels like a luxury, especially in the middle of a city where healthy food options at restaurants are hardly available during a short lunch break.
Best for: Those who are fitness oriented, interested in trying the Paleo diet, and too busy to cook their own healthy meals at home.
Another service based in the Kyunglidan area, Sprout provides completely vegan food available for pickup once a week, with a rotating menu that always include salads, soups, grain-based dishes, and decadent desserts. Run by a holistic nutrionist, these meals are healthy, but almost unbelievably so because they are packed with flavor and could compete with any non-vegan options in terms of taste. Although they do not deliver, the pickup location is relatively easy to get to and is every Sunday from 6-8PM. But don’t take my word for it- check out Seoul’s favorite expat food blogger, who wrote twoentries on the service as well. Prices are more than reasonable and custom catering for events is also an option.
Best for: Vegans or those who enjoy vegetable based dishes, who don’t mind going to Kyunglidan every week and who prefer eating at home.
For those who prefer a restaurant dining experience, Plant is a vegan restaurant south of Itaewon station that is the brainchild of Mipa Lee, formerly known as the author of the Alien’s Day Out blog and now fulltime owner and chef. We profiled her several times already, but as one of the only vegan restaurants in Seoul, and with such high quality food, Plant is definitely deserving of as much attention as it can get. Alongside an arsenal of decadent desserts, they serve a rotating menu of vegan entrees which include wraps, salads, sandwiches, and more. The restaurant is cozy to the point of unavoidable eavesdropping, but the staff is always upbeat and the end result feels like eating at the dinner party of a vegan friend who happens to also be an incredible cook.
Best for: Vegans or those who enjoy vegetable based dishes, who don’t mind paying a little extra for not having to do the dishes. Also, anybody with a craving for an afternoon dessert while in the Itaewon neighborhood.
Anybody on any of the major online expat forums for more than a week has likely seen mention of the greatness that is Iherb.com, which has not only a bevy of supplements and vitamins, but also various health food products that are hard to acquire in Korea unless you go to large stores or specialty shops: probiotics, raw apple cider vinegar, virgin coconut oil, whole flax seeds, and more. Shipping generally takes 4-5 days and a PCC code is required- see our tutorial on how to bypass this using a passport number.
Best for: Supplements, vinegars, cooking oils, seeds
A new group to watch, Bburi’s services are geared towards healthy, seasonal, local eating with a traditional Korean twist. For example, they insist on using the transliterated Korean names of vegetables and dishes to fully convey their essence and context within Korean culture. Although they do not have a fixed product, in the short few months that they have been operational, they have run a seasonal eating cooking class that focused around the “bitter” flavor of certain traditional dishes, a daytrip to the coast to collect fresh seafood, and plenty of blog posts that elucidate the benefits of obscure vegetables like Deodeok, complete with recipes.
Best for: Those interested in learning about traditional Korean foods and cooking.
For those who already have all the right things to eat but are struggling with how to eat them, or find themselves in repetitive cycles of dieting / splurging that seem to have no end, Samantha Russell might be a good person to consult to consider the emotional aspect of the act of eating. A certified coach based in Seoul (and native of New Zealand), she does both in-person and skype consultations, as well as workshops to help people recognize the underlying issues around eating that might go unnoticed otherwise.
Best for: those struggling with the act of eating itself, looking for one to one support.