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About Korean Food

Mungbean Pancake

Mungbean Pancake

Korean food is at once a natural fit with a vegan diet and a significant challenge. Traditionally, the Korean diet is largely vegan- rice served with banchan (side dishes) that are typically made from vegetables. The diet of Korean Buddhist monks remains vegan. However, Koreans make a mean barbecue, and as the country’s economy has soared, the eating of meat-centric meals has become more and more a daily reality as opposed to being saved for special occasions.

The result is that there are certain Korean dishes that are naturally vegan, but when in Korea, the concept of a vegan diet is not widely understood, and it can be challenging at times ordering dishes so that they will be vegan. That being said, there are numerous Buddhist restaurants in Seoul that are entirely vegan.

Ultimately, Korean cuisine is often spicy, sometimes sweet, and really very yummy. In the US, Korean cuisine is most well known for its barbecue (bulgolgi), which is now showing up in fusion hamburgers and tacos in California and across the nation.

This blog shares not only the traditional vegan food of Korean, but also our translation of meat-based dishes, such as bulgolgi, to vegan versions that we think are every bit as delicious.

We do want to point out that Korean cooking is done by Son-maht, which literally means “hand taste.” This means that a good cook tastes as she goes along, adjusting accordingly by listening to the intuition of her hands. So while we do our best to provide measurements to give you an idea, we can’t know how spicy, salty, rich, or sweet your preferences are, so feel free to experiment as you cook!

Also, with regard to the portion sizes of our recipes, keep in mind that they are given with the idea that you will typically be eating them with rice and banchan. Ideally, you will have several banchan pre-made in the fridge to accompany all of your main dishes.

If you’re new to Korean cuisine, we hope that our blog will help introduce you to its supreme awesomeness. If you’re new to vegan food, we hope to help you realize that healthy and kind food is yummy and easy to make. If you’re a veteran of both, then welcome, you rock, and let’s share what we’ve learned!

22 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2011 8:14 pm

    Have you been to Hangawi in NYC? They’re veg (of course), but possibly on the pricier side. They boast having an “Imperial” prix fixe dinner, but they’ve got some reasonably-priced lunch deals if you’re a person of my income. I’m thinking of making this my next stop next time I’m up in The City.

    • Sunnie permalink*
      September 7, 2011 8:32 pm

      Hi Barnaby! Thanks for finding us. We haven’t been to Hangawi yet. But we’ve heard a ton of great things about that place. We follow Alicia Silverstone’s Kind Life blog, and she talked quite a bit about Hangawi as well. We are definitely going to visit next time we’re in New York! :)

  2. Marissa permalink
    December 7, 2011 3:23 pm

    I’m vegan in Michigan and have had limited access to Korean food despite having known a handful of Koreans during my time in school. They always said that everything had to have meat or fish, and that they didn’t know where to get vegan kimchi. I’ve found the kimchi, and I’ve eaten at a couple of restaurants, but I always felt inhibited by the limited menu options, and the lack of kimchi I could eat. I’m getting into lactofermation (sour kraut, kimchi, turnip/beet pickles), and I’m getting ready to take the plunge into vegan Korean cooking – thank you for the blog!

    • Sunnie permalink*
      December 7, 2011 3:32 pm

      Hi, Marissa!

      Thanks for visiting our blog! I am so glad to hear that you found vegan kimchi. I love using probiotic cooking – fermentation is awesome. :) I hope you try many of our recipes and enjoy them. Let us know how they turn out, we love hearing from our readers!! Happy Holidays!

  3. February 9, 2012 1:31 am

    Hi Guys,
    I live in Busan and visit Loving Hut at least once a week. They have delicious vegan kimchi, in fact delicious vegan everything. I can’t wait to try out some of your recipes. BTW how often do you visit Korean nowadays?

    • Sunnie permalink*
      February 9, 2012 3:11 pm

      Hi Vegan Urbanite! Oh, we love eating at the Loving Hut restaurants in Korea! We visit as many Loving Huts as we can when we travel to Korea once a year. We’ve never been to the one in Busan, but heard good things about that place. There is only one of those in Indiana – called Loving Cafe – in Fort Wayne, so we wish another one would open another one closer to us. :) I hope you’re enjoying your time in Korea!

  4. Kim Yoo-ra permalink
    June 30, 2012 2:23 pm

    Hi, I’m Veronika from Hungary, 24 years old, vegan & animal right activist, big fan of Korea and just started to study in korean. ^^ I’m glad I found your blog. Love it!

    내 이름은 베로니카예요. 대학생이에요. 주헝가리 한국문화원에서 한국어를 공부해요. 아주 좋아해요. ^^

    There’s a very tasty soup which I ate once and really liked. Can someone tell me how do I make vegan doenjang jjigae?

    • Bill permalink*
      June 30, 2012 2:29 pm

      Hi, Veronika. Thanks for finding us. I’ve been planning for a doenjang jigae post forever and still haven’t gotten around to it. In the meantime, if you follow our chung-gook-jang jigae recipe and just substitute doenjang paste to taste and biol everything together instead of separately, you’ll have a good doenjang jigae! You can also add some tofu cubes as well, if you’d like. Hope you enjoy!

  5. Jess permalink
    September 3, 2012 11:22 pm

    Hi Sunny and Bill,

    I used to live in Korea near Gyeongju and I love Korean food. About five years ago I became vegan and I am so happy to find your site! I can’t wait to try making some of these delicious recipes!

    • Sunnie permalink*
      September 4, 2012 10:22 am

      Oh wow, you lived near Geongju!! How awesome, we are envious. So glad you found us. Hope you enjoy the recipes, let us know how they turn out!! ;)

  6. October 28, 2013 4:19 pm

    that the one thing about being vegetarian…i miss korean food! good thing my mother in law was korean .. and i can cook it at home with out meat products…but still a korean restaurants is the best!!!!

    • Bill permalink*
      November 3, 2013 6:39 pm

      There are some vegan Korean restaurants out there! :)

  7. rgoodman82Russell permalink
    November 6, 2013 6:44 am

    Hey. I look forward to reading through your blog!
    I eat plant-based meals (i.e. vegan) and have previously lived in Korea (2011/2012) back when I ate meat.
    ‘Vegan’ translated into hangul seems long-winded. Is there a shorter more accuarte description I can give in my local Korean Cafe? Romanised & hangul would be great thanks! :)

    • Bill permalink*
      November 12, 2013 2:42 pm

      Sure! This courtesy of Sunnie:

      Vegan = 채식 (Chae -shik) but often they may not be familiar with it, so unfortunately, the long winded approach is often safest.

      I eat vegan. I don’t eat meat, ham, eggs, cheese, milk or seafood.
      저는 채식을 합니다. 고기, 햄, 계란, 치즈, 우유, 해물 등을 먹지 않습니다. (Ju-neun chae-shik-el ham-ni-da. Go-gi, ham, gyeu-ran, cheese, ooh-yoo, hae-mul-el muk-ji ahn-seub-ni-da.)

      Hope this helps!

  8. thevev permalink
    November 26, 2013 5:33 pm

    Dear Sunny and Bill,
    I admire your blog and have already been exploring some of your recepies (and became ddeokbokki addicted). However I have a slight problem and hoped, maybe you could give me some advice. I will be travelling to Korea (Seoul and some short trip to other cities) for Christmas and New Year’s Eve visiting a friend who studies there. She speaks korean fluently, yet she said that it will be almost impossible for me to stay vegan when Im there unless Im super well prepared (We won’t be able to only go to vegan friendly restaurants). I don’t want to bother you, but could you probably get in touch with me and help me figure out how to survive best over there for 2 weeks? That would really help me a lot.
    I don’t wanna get stuck eating plain rice, salad and mochi T.T…
    Thx in advance!
    Vera

    • thevev permalink
      November 27, 2013 11:13 am

      oh sorry, tiredness got hold of my head. Of course I meant Sunnie!

    • Bill permalink*
      November 30, 2013 7:30 pm

      Hi, Vera. The challenge is of course going to be kimchi and other things like that, which often have seafood in them. But there really are quite a few vegan and temple food restaurants around, particularly in Seoul. If you can do a little planning ahead (happycow is a great resource), then you can often find vegan restaurants nearby. Even if that is not the case, there are certain dishes that you can be safe with, especially given that you have a friend with you who is fluent in Korean. Bibimbap minus the meat and eggs is available anywhere and would be safe for you. Kimbap minus egg and meat is also everywhere. Obviously, that can get a little tiring if you’re eating it all the time, but most places are pretty good about preparing soon dubu jigae minus any egg, seafood, or meat if you ask. They might tell you it won’t taste good, but just assure them that it’s fine, and you’ll find it’s perfectly good. A lot of other dishes can also be easily done by just leaving out the animal products – japchae minus the meat and egg or bibim namul minus the meat and egg are available all over the place – doenjang jigae minus meat, etc. So don’t despair. Check out happycow, plan in advance, keep an eye out for temple food, and familiarize yourself with some of the dishes that are easily made vegan by simply leaving out the animal products.

      Let us know if you have further questions. Good luck and enjoy Korea!

      • thevev permalink
        December 1, 2013 7:08 am

        Thank you a lot! Thats already great info :3
        I’d still have some questions though.
        1. Since the side dishes are already premade, do you know if any of them are mostly vegan-proof?
        2. Same question for vegan street food (I know you once wrote about vegan ddeokbokki somewhere)?
        3. Besides the places you’ve already reviewed on your blog and the ones to be found on happycow, do you have any insider tips for restaurants that might not be very popular but still worth visiting?
        4. My friend is not 100% fluent in Korean, she interposed. So in case an Ajumma for instance is not very happy about preparing something differently, do you have any experience in how to approach them in the best way? Or maybe some korean expression to avoid discussion (e.g.: I have a serious allergy to animal products- which would be a lie :( )?
        5. Finally; we might be backpacking and I’d need to take food with me, do you know of any instant dishes or good-on-the-go-products to be found in ordinary grocery stores? Probably also things that one wouldn’t expect to be vegan?
        I hope it’s not too bothering for you to answer this bunch of questions. I’m utterly grateful for your help and any advice you could give to me! Thank you so much! :3
        Vera

      • Bill permalink*
        December 11, 2013 8:51 pm

        Hi, Vera. Side dishes are hard to tell again mostly because of the hidden seafood. A lot if times you’d be safe with bean sprouts, pickled radish (yellow), peanuts in sauce, black beans in sauce, pan dried tofu, water (white) kimchis.

        Again, I’d look for temple food restaurants.

        I think you might get a little grumbling from ajumas, but they will be willing to help you or tell you is they can’t. For example, if they pre make things that they can’t adapt. We’ve never had issues with them being up front with us. They might argue it won’t taste good without the meat or seafood, but they won’t try to trick you.

        I’m not sure about any special dishes, like here, we always check ingredients. Kimbap is great traveling food!

        As for street food, it again really depends. A lot of ddeokbokki has fish cake in it! :( you can have some luck with mungbean pancakes if you skip the meat, but it’s really case by case. Dumplings also can sometimes be found.

        Good luck and safe and happy travels!

  9. April 11, 2014 1:43 pm

    Whoo I am so glad I found your blog!! :) Thank you for the inspiration on going Korean Vegan! My mom’s going to kill me lol

    • Bill permalink*
      April 11, 2014 6:58 pm

      Haha! Who knows, someday she could end up thanking you for starting her on her own journey. More scientific studies every day about the health benefits! Let us know any way we can help!

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