Vegetarian in Korea presents: Sobahn Cafe, Berlin, and Petra's

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Vegetarian in Korea is a great blog written by Chalica Pack. She is a regular contributor to Groove Magazine and someone I enjoy dining with. These are the articles that appeared in this month's Groove magazine. Check out her blog at www.vegetarianinkorea.com for pictures of the restaurants.

Dan




Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants in Seoul
Written and Photographed by Chalica Pack
This article comes courtesy of Groove Magazine in Seoul

Finding vegetarian friendly restaurants in Seoul can be a bit challenging if you don't know where to look. Let me try to point you in the right direction with three of my finds to get you started.

Sobahn Cafe

Cafe Sobahn is owned by one of  Korean's largest food companies (CJ Foodville) but when you step inside, you feel like you are in a down to earth, back to basics eatery. Part of that feel comes from the greenhouse that greets you when you walk in-they grow many of the sprouts they use on their dishes. The greenhouse shows how deeply they are committed to using only the best ingredients . Vegetarians, or those  trying to live a healthy lifestyle might tear up just a bit upon seeing the little greens. I'm not ashamed to admit my eyes got a little misty.

Cafe Sobahn has a varied menu, but is perhaps most known for their plethora of bibimbap dishes. With over 10 variations on bibimbap, Sobahn has something that should please every palette. I sampled (devoured) the tofu bibimbap. For 6,500 KRW, you get a large porcelain bowl filled with fresh bibimbap. I've paid nearly that for bibimbap in a back alley restaurant before and let me tell- the presentation and ambiance at Sobahn is worth an extra won or two. There is also the fresh leaves bibimbap that has no meat and most of the dishes can be made vegetarian, if you simply inform your waiter. Also, I really enjoyed the fresh salad and the fried sweet potato snack that accompanied my bibimbap.

Sobahn is open for breakfast (8-11am) in addition to lunch and dinner. I recommend starting your day off with the waffle and ice cream dish. What? Waffles are clearly a breakfast item and the ice cream...well...consider it your daily dairy allowance.


 Take Subway Line 5 to  Gwanghwamun location and go out the 6th exit.
It takes just 5minutes fromm Gwanghwamun  to Café Sobahn

Berlin


On a hill overlooking the gateway to Itaewon sits a restaurant that would likely go unnoticed if you were walking by. Berlin isn't flashy; it's sophisticated. Their menu is eclectic, with a range of choices from Indian and Thai to Japanese and Italian. Can a restaurant striving to excel at a variety of international dishes really meets its mark? I think they can.I stopped in to Berlin for after dinner drinks and dessert (fabulous!) and saw several vegetarian items marked on their menu. I made a mental note to make plans to return for a full meal. (Do you know how exciting it is to see a menu denoting the vegetarian dishes with a little "V"? It's like they are saying, "Vegetarians! We know you are out there and we care deeply about your happiness!")

I started my return visit off with a tofu and avocado canape. The presentation was outstanding. The chilled tofu and avocado slices were layered with a spicy chutney style sauce that made my mouth crave every bite. Yes, it was that good. For my main dish, I ordered a green curry Thai pasta. Again,the dish was visually stunning. The vegetables were fresh and colorful. The sauce with enough heat to keep my water glass running low, but not so much that it interfered with enjoying all of the other flavors the dish offered. I'm not one to skip dessert, so I ordered a slice of the blueberry cheesecake to round out my mid-day meal. The cheesecake was very soft and creamy. The blueberries- not fresh, but a great topping none-the-less.

I was ecstatic to find a restaurant with so many appealing vegetarian options from around the globe and I'll be sure to return.

Berlin
 located near the archway into Itaewon, just up the hill from the Money Exchange.
02-749-0903
Monday- Sunday 11:30-2am
Check out their face book page under Berlin Cafe & Lounge


Petra's Middle Eastern Restaurant

Petra is a Middle Eastern restaurant located on top of the hill closest to Noksapyeong station. Yaser Ghanayem opened Petra in 2004. I sat down with Yaser for a late dinner one evening and he was very open about his life and his love of the middle eastern culture. “At Petra, we don't sell food- we sell culture. We sell Taste. We sell heritage.” says Yaser.

I've been in Seoul for about 10 months now, and I have been hearing great things about Petra seemingly since I got off the plane. Their food is expertly cooked by a professional Levantine chef that has been with Petra since 2005. Nour Jmbarak was named the “Best Arabian in South Korea” three years running. Mr. Jmbarak runs a clean, consistent kitchen. The falafel is not greasy, the tabouleh is amazingly fresh and flavorful and the hummus is topped with sumac. “God gave me a great Chef”, Yaser told me during our talk. Being completely satisfied with every aspect of my meal, I would have to agree with him.

Yaser has fresh seasonings shipped in every 2 months. There is a good chance that if you have had middle eastern food in Seoul, either at a hotel or a cafe, the seasonings came from Petra's. Yaser Ghanayem is more than just a restaurant owner, he is a savy businessman. He belongs to the Seoul Tourism Association and the Korea-Arab Society. Yaser has entertained all types of customers from members of the Korean National Assembly to comedians such as Roh Hong Chaol. The Royal Court of the King of Jordan has also dined at Petra. I think its safe to say that Petra certainly lives up to its reputation as a top notch middle eastern dining experience.

My meal was taken from the appetizer listings because they(just like other Middle Eastern restaurants in Seoul) did not have a vegetarian entree listed on their menu. However, I pressed Yaser on this serious neglect issue and he said that his chef will gladly prepare their couscous dishes with vegetables and no meat. Yaser also said he plans to add a few vegetarian entrees to the menu in the coming months. Hurray for the vegetarian movement!I applaud Petra for their willingness to adapt to the growing vegetarian population, and I hope that other Middle Eastern restaurants will follow suit.

Yaser Ghaneyem is co-owner of a new upscale middle-eastern restaurant called Saffron. The restaurant, which will open publicly within the next few weeks, is described to be a masterpiece of style and sophistication. No time for a fancy sit down dinner? Check out Petra's shwarma shop in Itaewon across from the fire station.

If you are not already a frequent customer of Petra, make a plan to go there for dinner soon. Yaser can be found helping out in the restaurant most days and he can assist you in putting together the perfect Middle Eastern meal, including showing you how to prepare each bite for maximum enjoyment.

Petra Restaurant
552 Itaewon-Dong,
02) 790-4433 or 019-840-9630

Chalica Pack is a vegetarian, a mother, and a photographer in Seoul. You can see more vegetarian finds at www.vegetarianinkorea.com



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