Vegetarians in Seoul

Monday, December 08, 2008


This is the article that appears in Eloquence Magazine this month on Vegetarians in Seoul.

Dan


By Daniel Gray with special thanks to Amy Bowler and Kenneth Holman

Photos by Daniel Gray

Amy Bowler heads the Seoul Veggie Club, which has a very popular Facebook group (type in Seoul Veggie Club) and blog (http://seoulveggieclub.wordpress.com). She has been a vegetarian for the last 15 years and she has spent the last of those four years in Korea. Twice a month the group has events. Last month they had a gathering at Everest restaurant in Dongdaemun where I had a chance to talk to Amy about her group and about her life as a vegetarian in Seoul.

Dan: So do you find that it is difficult being a vegetarian in Korea?

Amy: Oh, absolutely…I am struggling for words that are polite enough to print. It is very, very frustrating. Kimchi is the ubiquitous side dish and it is sort of the idea of ignorance being bliss. You just never know what you're going to get. This is the sort of country where ham and crab are considered vegetables, so when you ask for vegetable kimbap in perfect Korean and you'll still get ham or crab.



Dan: Right. They never mention that kimchi is made with fish sauce and different recipes call for oyster or shrimp. And what about meat-based broth in many of the dishes?

Amy: Yeah, I ate Naengmyeon happily for two years until I admitted that it had meat in the broth. It's back to that idea of ignorance being bliss.

Dan: So how do Korean people and expatriates react when you tell them you're a vegetarian?

Amy: Oh, with expatriates, its like back home. Some will tolerate it and others will try and challenge you. With Koreans the first question they'll ask is, "Is it because you're religious?" because they associate vegetarianism with Buddhist monks. And when you say it's not, they are a bit mystified. You can tell them it's because of animal rights or environmental issues, but those are not at the forefront of the Korean social consciousness.

Dan: So they don't get it?

Amy: Nope.

Dan: Do you cook at home?

Amy: All the time. Lentils are a good standby. They are cheap, quick, and easy. I made stir fries and curries. Itaewon is a bit of a Vegetarian hotspot because of the foreign groceries.

Dan: And where do you go when you go out?

Amy: Today I went to Dos Tacos in Gangnam which was a special treat. If I am compelled to go to a Korean restaurant, I'll have bibimbap or I'll have Tengjang Chiggae and I'll try not to notice the bits of seafood floating around in the broth. My standards have changed since I've come here. When I arrived if there was a speck of fish or meat on the dish, I couldn't bring myself to eat it, but now I'm more willing to turn a blind eye.

Dan: Do you have any tips for vegetarians?

Amy: The veggie club meets twice a month and it's not just about the food, it's about the social aspect. You really feel a of relief when you realize that you can eat everything at the table. Being a vegetarian in Korea you feel like you are often inconveniencing people because you're sitting at a Samgyeopsal restaurant and you're eating lettuce. Koreans feel like they want to offer something better, but they don't know what they can. So you feel like you're imposing. It's so much better to eat with other people and that is why the veggie club is so much fun.


Amy's Vegetarian-Friendly Recommendations

Purely Decadent


Vegan ice cream in an array of amazing flavours. Non-vegans would be surprised at how creamy and delightful this stuff is. There are seven locations around Seoul, including COEX, Mokdong, Yangjae and Yeongdeungpo.

The Yangjae location is at exit 5 of the subway station.

http://decadent.co.kr/

Dos Tacos

Three locations around Seoul (Gangnam, Apgujeong, Hongdae.) The original location in Gangnam is arguably the best, but the menus in all three places offer veggie-friendly choices including quesadillas, burritos, and nachos. Vegans can easily opt out of the cheese and sour cream toppings. Caution: the potato burrito may make you weep with pleasure. Fountain drinks are refillable, and the casual atmosphere and very reasonable prices often draw a crowd.

Gangnam Station, exit 6, go straight for a few minutes and look out for it on your left, tucked behind a Tous Les Jours bakery. If you pass Kyobo Tower, you've gone too far.

http://dostacos.co.kr/index.htm

ShinDongyang

Right outside Yeouido Station, it's easy to find, and impossible to go wrong when ordering from their vegetarian menu. The choices are plentiful, and the prices range from 6,000 to 70,000 won. You can find meat-free versions of Koreanized Chinese dishes, from the humble jjajangmyeong to a fancy full course meal. The menu doesn't have any English on it, but why not take your taste buds on an adventure, and point to a random dish? Our club was blown away by the feast, particularly a garlic-mushroom dish that managed to be chewy, crunchy, sweet, sour, spicy, salty, savory... basically everything you've ever wanted from a dish.


Yeouido Station, exit 5, top floor of the building immediately on your right.

http://www.shindongyang.com/

Petras

Treat yourself to the classics, hummus, baba ganoush and falafels, served with fresh pita bread or try a savory tomato and eggplant dish. The owner will happily cater to large groups, and if you're in the mood for something different, ask for a hookah and finish your meal with a mild, fruity, nicotine-free smoke.


Noksapeyong Station, Line No. 6, Exit 2. Use the pedestrian overpass to cross the road, turn right and walk up the hill. Petra is about 20 meters along, on the second floor of a red brick building, on the left side of the road. Tel: 019 840-9630.

Everest

The secret is out. This Nepalese-Indian Shangri-La is tricky to find on foot from Dongdaemun station, but that doesn't stop the scores of people who regularly fill the restaurant or spill out onto the street to wait for a table. The food is exquisite, the service is friendly, and the prices are very palatable. There are many Indian restaurants in Seoul and even in Dongdaemun, which serve a decent curry or paneer dish, but this joint is several notches above. Come early, and bring friends!

Dongdaemun Station, Line No. 1&4, Exit 3. Go out the exit and walk straight for 100 meters. Turn left at the pharmacy and walk 50 meters. It's straight ahead, up the stairs.

Kenneth Holman's Vegetarian Friendly Recommendations

산 들 바 람 (Sandeulbaram)
is a vegetarian buffet near Baekun station in Incheon. Open from 12-2:30; 6-8:30 closed Sunday and holidays. 032-502-0633. Go their website for directions (http://www.organicwind.com)


초록뜰 is a vegetarian calguksu restaurant in Seoul near Hoegi Station. Closed
Saturdays (and possibly Friday nights). 2213-1878. Directions: From Exit 2 of Hoegi Station, turn right and walk down the alley past the bedding shop and turn left. You will pass an S-OIL service station and a wedding hall. After walking for a few minutes, cross the street and you should see a road going to the hospital. The restaurant is to the right of the road going to the hospital on the second floor.

Sosim, in Insadong is famous for Buddhist temple food. Closed Sundays. 734-4388. Directions: Go out Anguk station exit 5 and it is in the basement near the GS25.

Sanchon, in Insadong is considered by many to be the best vegetarian restaurant in Seoul. It's a bit pricy. 735-0315.

New Start is a vegetarian buffet restaurant near Seollung Station. They are closed from Friday through Saturday night. 565-4324. Directions:
From exit 2 of Seollung Station, walk straight and turn left after
Linko. Look for it on the right.

On Sat, Nov 15, 2008 at 12:25 AM, Amy Bowler <surlyduck@gmail.com> wrote:


Pure Decadent
Vegan ice cream in an array of amazing flavours. Non-vegans would be surprised at how creamy and delightful this stuff is. There are seven locations around Seoul, including COEX, Mokdong, Yangjae and Yeongdeungpo.

The Yangjae location is at exit 5 of the subway station.
http://decadent.co.kr/

Dos Tacos

Three locations around Seoul (Gangnam, Apgujeong, Hongdae.) The original location in Gangnam is arguably the best, but the menus in all three places offer veggie-friendly choices including quesadillas, burritos, and nachos. Vegans can easily opt out of the cheese and sour cream toppings. Caution: the potato burrito may make you weep with pleasure. Fountain drinks are refillable, and the casual atmosphere and very reasonable prices often draw a crowd.

Gangnam Station, exit 6, go straight for a few minutes and look out for it on your left, tucked behind a Tous Les Jours bakery. If you pass Kyobo Tower, you've gone too far.
http://dostacos.co.kr/index.htm


ShinDongyang
Right outside Yeouido Station, it's easy to find, and impossible to go wrong when ordering from their vegetarian menu. The choices are plentiful, and the prices range from 6,000 to 70,000 won. You can find meat-free versions of Koreanized Chinese dishes, from the humble jjajangmyeong to a fancy full course meal. The menu doesn't have any English on it, but why not take your tastebuds on an adventure, and point to a random dish? Our club was blown away by the feast, particularly a garlic-mushroom dish that managed to be chewy, crunchy, sweet, sour, spicy,salty, savoury... basically everything you've ever wanted from a food.

Yeouido Station, exit 5, top floor of the building immediately on your right.
http://www.shindongyang.com/


Petras
Treat yourself to the classics, hummus, baba ganoush and falafels, served with fresh pita bread or try a savoury tomato and eggplant dish. The owner will happily cater to large groups, and if you're in the mood for something different, ask for a hookah / hubbly bubbly and finish your meal with a mild, fruity, nicotine-free smoke.

Noksapeyong Station, Line No. 6, Exit 2. Use the pedestrian overpass to cross the road, turn right and walk up the hill. Petra is about 20 meters along, on the second floor of a red brick building, on the left side of the road. Tel: 019 840-9630.


Everest
The secret is out. This Nepalese-Indian Shangri-La is tricky to find on foot from Dongdaemun station, but that doesn't stop the scores of people who regularly fill the restaurant or spill out onto the street to wait for a table. The food is exquisite, the service is friendly, and the prices are very palatable. There are many Indian restaurants in Seoul and even in Dongdaemun which serve a decent curry or paneer dish, but this joint is several notches above. Come early, and bring friends!

Dongdaemun Station, Line No. 1&4, Exit 3. Go out the exit and walk straight for 100 meters. Turn left at the pharmacy and walk 50 meters. It's straight ahead, up the stairs.

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