Vegetarianism is still a relatively new concept to most Koreans, let alone veganism. Most restaurants in Korea serve a limited menu with a handful of specific dishes, and therefore do not usually consider vegetarians. For those happy to have their soups and stews served with the meat omitted, be aware that invariably most broths are made using animal products.
Likewise, banchan, the mostly vegetable side dishes that accompany almost all Korean meals, will often contain animal products such as fish sauce. Also, recipes for many dishes can vary vastly between restaurants, meaning that finding a dish that may be served without meat such as soon doo bu jigae or bibimbap at one restaurant doesn’t make it a future fail-safe option.
For a traditional vegetarian or vegan taste of Korea, the best bet is usually temple food, whether it be a fancy high-end rendition of the cuisine served at specialist restaurants, or the humble equivalent served at eateries sometimes attached to Buddhist temples. Otherwise, it’s worth embarking on food adventures with prior knowledge: research which Korean dishes you feel comfortable eating, learn some lingo, and scope out available vegetarian or vegan friendly restaurants in the area.
Key Phrases for Vegan and Vegetarian Ordering in Korea
I’m a vegetarian. 저는 채식주의자입니다. (Jeoneun chaesikjuuija imnida. )
I’m a vegan. 저는 비건 채식주의자입니다. (Jeoneun Bigeon Chaesikjuuija imnida.)
Can you make a vegetarian (vegan) version of this dish? 혹시 이 요리를 (비건) 채식주의자용으로 만들어 주실 수 있나요? (Hoksi i yorireul (bigeon) chaesikjuuijayongeuro mandeureo jusil su innayo?)
Can I order this without eggs (meat)? 이 요리에서 계란을 (고기를) 빼고 주문할 수 있나요? (I yorieseo gyeraneul (gogireul) ppaego jumunhal su innayo?)
A favorite amongst the staff at 10 Mag, and a winner of the 2018 Best of Seoul competition, Plant proves that delicious food and a vegan diet are not mutually exclusive. With a menu that changes every 2-3 weeks in light of seasonal, local, and organic ingredients, Plant’s entree menu offers everything from stews to wraps to salads!
Try their take on a traditional West African stew or their chickpea avocado sandwich. And not only that — they make their own delicious baked goods like Thin Mints, Brownies, and cakes! Everything at Plant will remind you that vegan food is not only healthy, environmentally friendly, and cruelty-free, but also delicious.
UPDATE: Plant just opened up a new location which is a cafe and kitchen(Plant Café and Kitchen). Their old location(Plant Bakery) will serve as a bakery where you can enjoy gluten free desserts and also order whole cakes for special occasions.
Prepared with fresh vegetables and wild plants from neighboring fields and mountains, Sanchon serves gourmet seasonal temple cuisine. Opened by Monk Jeongsan, the restaurant was inspired by Kimyunshik, a Buddhist monk renowned as a top authority on vegetarian food in Korea. Sanchon seeks to provide a unique eating experience that sees a set menu with served with various banchan. Hot or cool tea can be paired with the meal.
Cook and Book offers not only tasty vegetarian cuisine, but also baking classes. Located in Hapjeong, this cafe is run by Chun Soon-mi, who attended cooking school in San Francisco. Cook and Book’s mouthwatering entrees can all be perfectly paired with a sweet treat. Vegan hamburgers, lentil stews, kabocha salads, brownies, cookies, carrot cake — the list goes on!
Wonderful news for vegans and vegetarians who have been looking for jjajangmyun and tangsooyuk — there’s a restaurant for you! Oh Se Gae Hyang serves Korean and Chinese dishes, like naengmyeon, deongjjang chigae, soondubu, bulgogi, and jampong. More casual and less expensive than Sanchon, Oh Se Gae Hyang offers vegan Korean and Chinese food that is often hard to find in Korea! They also offer… wait for it… vegan Korean BBQ!
Dal Yang’s menu is constantly changing due to their commitment to using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Previous menu options include fusili short pasta with artichoke, potato mash & spinach sandwich with salad, peanut sauce buckwheat noodles with cilantro, mac and cheese, white mushroom fried rice, and deongjjang chigae. Their dessert list boasts vegan marshmallow strawberry chocolate sticks, strawberry mochi, and korean mugwort rice cake.
At Balwoo Gongyang, you can enjoy vegan Korean food and traditional temple food. You can choose between the 5 different possible courses: Seon (Meditation), Won (Vow), Maeum (Mind), Hee (Joy) and Beop. The dishes for each of these courses change every season, so you have the chance to experience new tastes every time you visit. The courses can include soups, stews, salad, starters, rice, noodles, banchan, and even desserts! The prices start at W30,000 for the more simple Seon Course, and go up until W150,000 for the Beop Course, which includes the best temple food dishes, along with a thorough food explanation and cooking demonstration from the chef.
The renowned international chain, loving hut, set up shop in Gangnam a few years ago and is a favorite of vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Seoul’s rendition of Loving Hut lets diners enjoy meat-free versions of Korean favorites like Korean fried chicken and cheese stuffed hamburger steaks. The restaurant also sells desserts and some soy-based meat substitute products in store.
As the temperature rises, cool down with one Baekmiddang 1964’s organic dairy-free and gluten free soy milk ice creams! Available in a cup or a cone, this delicious soft serve is dispensed at several different locations throughout Seoul.
My (Intern Andy) personal favorite place in Seoul to satisfy my sweet tooth! Owned by the nicest woman I have met in Korea, Molly’s Pops has delicious, fresh, handmade ice cream pops. With unique flavors like injeolmi (sticky rice cake) and wasabi, wine and strawberry, and many other flavors like mint chocolate chip, mixed berry, and grapefruit, ask the owner for dairy free options!
Our Favorite Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants in Seoul
Battle lines are drawn deep when it comes to eating meat in Seoul, the number of vegan as opposed to vegetarian restaurants are a testament to the strong stand made in such a carnivorous society. However, there are restaurants that cater to both herbivores and meat lovers equally, which helps with the headache of planning diet diverse dining in Seoul. Here are some of our veg-friendly favorites!
Hailed as one of the best indian restaurants in Seoul, Jyoti serves authentic indian and nepalese cuisine, with a focus on fresh vegetarian fare. Whilst the restaurant has options to satiate any meat eaters in your party, the main event is without a doubt the vegetarian menu that covers everything from appetizers and tandoori, to soups and curries.
One of the most authentic Thai restaurants in Korea, Wang Thai extends their quality cuisine to an entire vegetarian section of their menu, not just a few dishes that swap out flesh for tofu as an afterthought. All dishes are reasonably priced and the vegetarian options cover curries, noodle salads, noodles and stir fries. While appetizers only include vegetarian spring rolls, the range of mains certainly makes up for it.
The menu at Al Matto covers starters, pizzas, pastas, calzones and salads with an excellent choice of non-meat options that aren’t just confined to varying combinations of cheese. The small restaurant in Haebangchon serves up authentic wood-fired pizzas with toppings ranging between authentic italian classics to korean favorites.
A word of warning for vegans or dairy-free diners: make sure to double check your choices as some of the pizzas cordoned off in the “cheese free” section of the menu are actually still served with a sprinkle of parmesan.
We recently published a list of the 10 Best Mexican Restaurants in Seoul, but a quick scan of the menus on offer will find mostly meat-heavy dishes with a few non-meat options added as a footnote. The menu at Taco Amigo’s in Itaewon lists by far the biggest range of veggie options with almost all menu items offering a choice between a vegetarian or a vegan version of their huge range of authentic mexican fare.
Tucked away in Itaewon, BLEND offers fresh smoothies and bagels. With different boosts available like chia seeds, spirulina, and even alcohol (!), pair your healthy smoothie with an avocado bagel or hummus bagel. If you’re not in the mood for a smoothie, they have other beverage options, such as matcha green tea or coffee.
Casablanca Sandwicherie is a neighborhood institution in Haebangchon, famous for their top notch Moroccan sandwiches. Whilst their veggie options may seem limited, the menu itself is by no means extensive, as the restaurant has focused on good sandwiches and good sandwiches only over the past 5 years. Their veggie sandwich, famed for its delicious deep fried balls of spiced potato goodness, are a favorite amongst vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. They also do a moroccan omelette sandwich for a vegetarian protein hit.
This Nepalese and Indian restaurant located in Dongdaemun since 2002 is a favorite of both vegetarians and meat-eaters. You can choose from a variety of delicious vegetarian entrees, then pair it with a nice main dish and a delicious drink. They have a wide variety of soup, dessert and salad to choose from, such as cream soup, hot and sour soup, mushroom soup, as well as refreshing green salads.
Morococo Café in Haebangchon is a nice and cozy Moroccan restaurant offering a few, but delicious and reasonably priced dishes. We recommend starting with their sweet and tangy carrot salad with caramelized plums and toasted almonds, then continue with “Morocco vegan over rice” as a main, a dish which includes rice topped with vegan substitutes and vegetables. You can make your course complete by ordering some wine, draft beer, coffee or tea, and if the weather is nice, take advantage of their beautiful outside terrace! It’s a great date spot.