Can Vegetarians / Vegans survive in Korea?
Before I answer your question – whether vegetarians can survive in Korea? let me first tell you the difference between Vegetarians and Vegans.
In this context I will be talking about Indian vegetarians. They do not eat meat, fish or any kind of seafood, egg, chicken and poultry but they do consumer dairy products like milk, cheese, butter etc. Some of them avoid onion and garlic from their meals. Other avoid root vegetables like potatoes. Indians follow vegetarian diet for religious reasons.
Vegans abstain from eating or using all animal products, including milk, cheese and eggs.
I posed the following question, “Can vegetarians survive in Korea? How? Did you guys have to do any sacrifice with regards to your vegetarian diet?” to the Seoul Veggie Club and Indians in Korea group on Facebook. And I got some interesting insights from both the groups.
First, let me share with you the feedback that I have received from the Indians in Korea group on Facebook.
Most of the Indians have been staying here for more than a year and this is what they have to say:
- You can survive here without any sacrifice provided you cook your own food.
- Avoid eating outside. And if you have to eat out, then take guidance from your Korean and Indian friends.
- If you go out for meals then have white rice, sauce and salad. Or make them understand that you don’t want any meat, egg, sea-food, fish sauce in your meal.
- You need to have self-control at least for a month and then you will be comfortable.
- Staying in Korea has helped them to develop their cooking skills. Recipes are easily available on YouTube and other cooking websites.
- Vegetables, though limited, are easily available and are fresh. So if one wish to stay vegetarian they need not compromise.
- You need to be creative with cooking and experiment with various recipes by focusing on what is available than what is not available.
- You should dedicate time for cooking your meals on a day-to-day basis.
- A few years ago, Indians used to get parcel from India but things have changed a lot in recent times. Now foreign marts and Indian Restaurants are available everywhere.
- Many of them started consuming mushrooms and tofu, which they did not prefer eating back in India.
- Vegetables and tofu (dubu) are easily available at various marts. Commonly found vegetables include potatoes, sweet potato, onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, cauliflower, egg plant (baingan), cucumber, carrot, radish, cabbage, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, parsley, beans, okra, bean sprouts and many others. Other Korean vegetables are available too.
- All the vegetables mentioned above are easily available in Ansan.
- Indian spices are available at any Foreign Mart. They sell Indian Spices in Seoul, Suwon, Ansan, Daegu, Busan and Daejon. People living in other cities have to travel either to Seoul or Busan to buy Indian Spices and grocery items.
- Bread is easily available everywhere.
- Most of the cities have Indian Restaurants too, which sells Indian Spices, Ready to cook food, rice and atta.
- Vegetarian food is easily available at various Indian Restaurants but then they are expensive.
- There are many Korean Restaurants too, which serves Vegetarians Cuisines.
- If you are staying in a dormitory then the first few months could be very challenging. It is better to live independently, than staying in a dorm. You get your own kitchen.
- Some had to sacrifice and eat non-vegetarian food when they were not able to find vegetarian options easily.
- Some started eating egg not because of scarcity of vegetarian food but because of lack of balanced diet.
- Veg. Pizza (Yachhe Pizza) ends up being the staple diet for many Indians in the first few months. Other option could be veg subs and salads served at Subway Sandwiches and Quiznos.
- Vegetarian in Korea are called as Chae-Sik-Juui-Ja (채식주의자) or ChaeSik-Jiwon (채식지원). A vegetarian restaurant is referred to as ChaeSik-SikTang (채식식당).
- Koreans are very caring and take extra effort to feed you nicely if you mention that you are a vegetarian. But you need to very clearly explain about the food you don’t eat. Koreans consider sea-food and egg as vegetarian food.
- Whenever you are going out, carry your food with you. If you want to eat out, then you can try dul-suth-bibimbap, bibimbap, ramyeon (noodles) which could be suitable for vegetarians. But, make sure that your inform them to remove the meat before the dish is served to you.
- Just be cautious about bread and kimchi. As bread normally contains egg and kimchi is made using fish oil and pickled shrimps.
- Most of them believe that the grocery or food items available are costly as compared to India. But others like to believe that since they are earning considerably more here than what they would in India, it does not pinch that much, if one has to spend more in Korean Won for Indian Grocery.
Thanks a lot to Dhawal Shah, Siddhartha Mishra, Balaji Korbad, Santosh Dengale, Kinshuk Ajmera, Deep Shikha, Hemant K. Sharma, Bhavana Joshi, Parul Chaturvedi, Anupriya Kansal, Ripul Sharma, Neha Mittal, Sandeep More, Harshit Kumar, Vrujesh Deshpande, Akshat Gupta, Laksmi Iyer & PJ Soni from Indians in Korea Group for their inputs and suggestions.
Next I posed the same question to Seoul Veggie Club and this is what some of the members have to say.
- Anazette Celeste Hudson says, “You can survive; it just takes some creativity and willingness to experiment with recipes. Bimbimbap and kimbap have become my favorite takeout foods. I try to go the same spots since they already know I prefer no meat or egg. i find the vegetables to be a lot fresher and enjoy buying from markets. Back in the states, I was more so on the vegan side, but here I’ve loosened up a bit. I found a cupcake place in my city. While the cupcakes aren’t vegan, being from the States they taste like and remind me of home, so I indulge from time to time”.
- Aliens Day Out and Vegan Beats are great online resource for Vegans in Korea.
- If you’re a fussy eater, don’t like cooking and have loads of food issues, then this place is like vegetarian Siberia.
- If you have hygiene issues then you would not find it feasible to eat out on streets and restaurants.
- You cannot survive here mostly on rice and pasta as it adds to your carb intake.
- You may face problems here with variety and limited resources.
- Stores like Costco and High street market in Itaewon make it easier to find imported goods here in Korea.
- Ramen (instant noodles, cup noodles) are not usually vegetarian with the sole exception of “채식주의 순.” Ramen packets available at various convenience stores are NOT vegetarian as they contain egg, chicken, fish, or beef extract. There are other vegetarian varieties of ramen available at vegetarian restaurants, but they are expensive.
- To sum up, you can’t have it all but its pretty close and it’s improving all the time.
And here are a few helpful phrases to use at various Korean restaurants or shops
The general all-purpose phrase for ordering food without the meat is “고기 빼고주세요 (gogi bbae-go joo sae yo.) or 고기, 햄, 육식류 다 빼고 주세요 (gogi, ham, yuksik ta bbae-go joosaeyo). Or you can say - 고기 베고 주새요 or 해물 도 베고 주세요. (gogi bbae-go joo sae yo or hae-mul bbae-go joo sae yo) seafood too and 재식 주이 자 (Chae Shik Joo-ee ja - I am a vegetarian) and follow it up with Gogi Opshi “고기없이” (No meat) and Haemool Opshi “해물 없이” (No seafood).
Vanessa Sae-hee Burke Say “_____ 못먹어요.” (____ mot mo-goyo) instead…this means “I can’t eat____” versus the “I don’t eat ___” or “meat no.” ~> 1.meat(general) – gogi – 고기. 2. beef – so gogi – 소고기. 3. pork – dweji gogi – 돼지고기. 4. chicken – dak – 닭. 5. fish (general) – seng seon – 생선… For more phrases visit this page on her blog.
King Gefski adds, I’ve often had the “Why are there bits of meat in here?” moments – And the answer (said with surprise to my question): “It’s not beef!”
Thanks a lot to Anazette Celeste Hudson, Vanessa Sae-hee Burke, Nicole Shapiro, Jerry Wally, Sheridene Barbara Herschel, Michele Schenker-Hayward, Michelle Nocera, Aakhu TuahNera Freeman, King Gefski, Samir Taha Abdelhamid, Kathleen Barnard-Kim, Michael Vilabrera & Eileen Cahill from the Seoul Veggies Club for their inputs and suggestions.
Useful online resource for Vegans and Vegetarians in Korea
- The Loving Hut (Vegan Restaurant chain in Korea)
- Alien’s Day Out
- Vegan Beats
- Seoul Veggie Club
- Vegan Korea
- Vegetarians in Korea
Indian Recipe Websites contributed by Ms. Laksmi Iyer
- Super Veggie Delight
- Show me the Curry
- Vah Reh Vah Recipes
- Manjula’s Kitchen
- South Indian Veggie Recipe