Q: Is it possible to be a vegetarian in Korea?
One of the questions I get asked a lot is how I maintain my vegetarian dietary habits in South Korea.
Honestly, I don’t know. I just do.
I didn’t grow up eating meat so I don’t crave it. I don’t see it and go, “Oh, if only I could get my hands on that”, otherwise I wouldn’t be a vegetarian.
But we digress.
Is it possible to be a vegetarian here? Absolutely.
Korean’s have a wide variety of foods that they consume in their diet, and even though meat and seafood makeup about 65% of it (in my opinion), the other 35% percent is left with a variety of fruits, grains, and vegetables that commonly accompanies the meat dishes. So finding something isn’t that difficult.
Is it easy? Ummm…. that depends.
Are you the kind of person who likes to cook your meals and eat at home? Or do you enjoy going out to eat? OR do you hate cooking but also find yourself reluctant to always order out?
If you’re the first, then you shouldn’t have too hard of a time finding ingredients to make food. Koreans have a lot of non-meat based ingredients that you can go crazy with in the kitchen. Foods like, tofu, beans, vegetables, fruits, and more than abundant here.
If you are someone who enjoys going out to eat, however, finding great places to eat as a vegetarian can be a bit more burdensome, but not impossible. While you can find foods in restaurants that may suit your taste, it’s a bit more difficult than just making your own food. Your request for taking meat out of a certain dish may not always go according to plan and frankly, what you may consider meat, Koreans may not consider meat. For example, seafood and ham isn’t considered a meat here. (I don’t know if that’s the case for other people, but I consider it meat.)
If you just ask for non-meat dishes to eat, then you may find yourself surrounded by seafood options, since it’s the second most consumed food here after meat (in my opinion). So be sure to specify what you want, and if you don’t mind eating the same thing over and over, then find a restaurant that suits your taste.
( In places like Seoul, there are even more options for plant-based eaters.)
If you’re in the last group, you’re like me! YAY! Don’t have to worry, you too can survive. Like me, I’m assuming you don’t live to eat, but eat to live. (Maybe it’s because you don’t enjoy cooking, or that you find yourself too broke to splurge on something as simple as food. Hey, no judgement here, bro. You gotta do what you gotta do). If that’s the case, no worries. I tend to eat a lot of foods raw because I hate spending time in the kitchen. But there are days when I want to eat out or cook and when those days come, I just go the store or my favorite restaurant down the street and grab something to eat.
SIDE NOTE: Even though I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, I do find myself eating at home a lot. So if you despise cooking so much that you aren’t willing to learn, then maybe you should find a restaurant that can make vegetarian dishes for you.
NOW, I NEED TO MENTION…
Food in this culture is not a casual thing. Koreans like to sit down and EAT.
(They eat a lot but they usually share their foods with each other so don’t worry about there not being enough or there being too much.)
Food is so important in this culture that after they greet you, the first thing they do is ask you if you’ve eaten.
You know how in America we say, “Hi! How are you?” when we first meet someone? Well Koreans go, “Hi! Have you eaten?” when they first see you. Forget about your feelings… Is your stomach full? That’s the real question. 🤔😂
I don’t know if you’re into K-dramas or anything, but there are multiple dramas dedicated to eating. If that’s not an indicator of important food is then I don’t know what will.
When you want to hang out with your friends, you’re probably going to do something that involves either consuming alcohol or eating food and if you’re aren’t down with either of those then things may get a little lonely here. But don’t you worry, your dietary choices won’t stop you from making friends. They just want to eat with you, they don’t necessarily care what it is. Personally, I had to become more flexible with my eating schedule in order to hang out with my friends.
I would say my biggest struggle with being a vegetarian here is that I can’t just walk into any random restaurant and order something to eat without doing research before hand, but other than that, I don’t find it tedious to maintain.
I can here y’all practically screaming at me:
Are you gonna tell us some foods vegetarians can eat or not?!
Don’t worry, I gotchu.
Foods that I enjoy eating when I do leave my humble abode are: bibimbap, japchae, japchaebap (japchae with rice), omurice (rice omelette), gimbap, noodles ( cold and warm alike), fried rice, potato hotdog, tofu chobap and more. The list could go on and on.
The point: I don’t starve.
ALSO, some of these dishes are originally made with meat and/or seafood in them so you should request that the meat be taken out ahead of time.
They do have American, Mexican, Italian (and other) foods here so if you’re missing home you can eat that as well. They do taste a little different in my opinion, so….. 🤷♀️
Moral of this long post?
It’s possible to be a vegetarian in Korea. You can survive if you learn how to cook basic dishes.
I know this was a long post and I’m sorry, but thanks for sticking around till the end!
Until next time,
See ya around friend~~