“It got to the point that I could not find anything to eat,” said 22-year-old Courtney Jones from the United States, recalling when she first came to Korea as an exchange student.
“So, when I came back to Korea for my master’s degree, I was thinking that I can’t do this for two years and it is not going to be healthy in the long run.”
Jones has been a vegetarian for eight years, an easy lifestyle to maintain in her home country. But when she first came to Korea, things got so difficult that she had no choice but to go pescatarian.
Vegetarian students, like Jones, often struggle to adjust to the food culture in Korea, especially if they’re living on campus where universities rarely offer vegetarian options. This can push vegetarian students to start to avoid social events, nights out and school clubs for fear of an uncomfortable moment at the dinner table.
“Usually for me, every day was rice and kimchi on campus,” said Jones.
The lack of options for people that don’t eat meat is a growing problem, especially as the number of international students is on the rise. In 2021 alone, 152,281 foreign students were studying in Korea, according to data from the Ministry of Education, many of them coming from countries where vegetarianism is far more common.
But this doesn’t mean there are no options for vegetarians and vegans in Korea. In fact, vegan options are on the rise and there are now a number of restaurants in Seoul and around the country catering to a vegan diet.
The following restaurants are some great places to try out vegan food in Korea. If navigation isn’t your strong suit, the apps HappyCow in English and Chaesik Hankki in Korean can also help you track down the restaurants and read reviews before you visit.
Craving bread but can’t find a place that serves vegan? You are in luck if you are a Korea University student.
Warm Harue is a vegan bakery located near Exit No. 3 of Anam Station on Seoul Subway Line No. 6. All pastries come with vegan or gluten-free labels as well as the list of ingredients used and their origins.
The cafe also serves roasted vegetable sandwiches and guacamole. It is not located on the main street in the Anam area, and could be a perfect option for study sessions alone or with a small group of friends.
89-1 Anam-dong 5(o)-ga, Seongbuk District, central Seoul
Opens from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Monday to Friday and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday
This vegan-friendly restaurant near Yonsei University offers a variety of vegan items such as Vegan Hamburger Steak, Vegan Tteokbokki and Vegan Bulgogi.
It also offers a few beers and wines that are vegan.
But the best thing about Mr. Lee is that it also offers non-vegan dishes. So if you are looking for a place to socialize with others, this is the spot.
The staff at the restaurant always inform you if there are side dishes or snacks which are non-vegan as a precaution.
B1, Yonsei-ro 7-an-gil, Seodaemun District, western Seoul
Opens every day except Saturdays from 6 p.m. to midnight
Café Siva is a vegan fusion restaurant located near Exit 6 at Sookmyung Women’s University Station on Line No. 4. It offers a range of fusion vegan dishes, from Euro-Asian to Italian.
Café Siva, with SIVA as an abbreviation for Serve International Vegan Awareness, is a 100 percent plant-based restaurant that is good for vegetarians and vegan students that are looking for more diverse options such as burgers, jjimdak (braised chicken with soy sauce), pasta and curry.
The cafe is unique for its commitment to non-violence against ecology, animal rights and health. Therefore, aside from plant-based food choices, students can also find eco-friendly and reusable items here like scrubbers, pouches and toothbrushes. Take-home vegan food items like sweet jellies and jam are also available for purchase.
276-1 Hangang-daero, Namyeong-dong, Yongsan District, central Seoul
Opens from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day with a break between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Vegan & Beyond
Vegan & Beyond is a go-to cafe, kitchen and grocery store for vegan and vegetarian residents coming from abroad, especially those living within the Yonsei University area.
For many international communities, this place goes beyond being a source of a wide variety of vegan options as it also offers various one-day lessons conducted in English: From vegan cheese and natural wine tasting events to fruit makgeolli making lessons.
There is also a pile of books on healthy diets, veganism and living a plant-based lifestyle available for visitors to read.
Vegan & Beyond also organizes English and Korean language exchange meetups, vegan potluck parties and other social events where you can interact with a range of people while enjoying their vegan dishes, like artist talks and exhibitions. Vegan & Beyond serves as a space for learning and eating healthily for everyone in Seoul.
2nd Floor, 33 Yeonhui-dong, Seodaemun District, western Seoul
Opens every day except for Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Maru JaYeonSik Kimbap
Located inside the Insadong Maru building alley, Maru JaYeonSik Kimbap serves well-loved street food such as soybean tofu gimbap, vegan mandu (Korean dumplings), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), ramyeon, vegan udon (noodles in soup) and even soybean fried chicken.
The prices on their menu are also student-friendly, as they generally range from 4,000 won ($2.80) to 8,000 won, which are rare to find nowadays.
Maru JaYeonSik Kimbap is an all-vegan snack bar, which is also a non-smoking and non-drinking venue. Its inexpensive food choices attract many travelers, foreign students and even local residents, so a long queue should be expected during busy times.
One big plus: You can also visit the nearby tourist spots of Insadong such as Jogyesa Temple, Museum Kimchikan and Ssamziegil.
35-4, Insadong-gil, Jongno District, central Seoul
Opens every day from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
BY STUDENT REPORTER ISABELLE PIA SISON [email@example.com]