I recently took a trip to my favorite place in the entire world: South Korea! The last time I’d visited was way back when I was a meat-eater, so as you can probably imagine, I was a little nervous about going there as a vegan.

I was surprised to find that being vegan in South Korea wasn’t hard at all. Sure, it might not be drowning in all-vegan restaurants like my hometown of L.A. is, but I found it pretty easy to navigate my way through menus and felt very satisfied overall.

Japchae (korean noodle stir-fry) || sweet potato glass noodles with tofu, red bell pepper, spinach, carrots, green onions, and shiitake mushrooms . My mom made this dish all the time when I was growing up so it holds particular nostalgia for me. She is Korean and this was her go-to item to make for any potluck or holiday party. I still remember standing in the kitchen as a little girl, watching her thinly slice vegetables with effortless precision. My siblings and I could never get enough of the clingy, chewy noodles and the aromatic sauce that coated them. My adapted recipe is below (serves two): . Ingredients: *4 oz Korean sweet potato starch noodles (found in any Asian supermarket or grocery specialty aisle) *5 oz (small bunch) spinach, washed and drained *3 oz extra firm tofu (optional) *1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced *1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced *1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks *3 stalks green onions, cut into strips *3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced *2 cloves garlic, finely minced *3 tbsp soy sauce *1 tbsp sugar *1 tbsp sesame oil and 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds Black pepper and salt to taste . Directions: Bring water to boil in a large pot, then add noodles and cook for 6-8 minutes, until soft but still slightly chewy. Drain and rinse in cold water, then cut in half with scissors. For the spinach, blanch in a separate pot (bring water to a boil and throw in spinach for one minute until wilted), then rinse the spinach under cold running water, squeeze into a ball, and cut the ball several times. In a nonstick pan, heat the tofu until browned on both sides, then remove from pan. Next, stirfry the onion, mushroom, bell pepper, and carrot together for 2 minutes until softened, then add in green onions and stir-fry another minute. You can use cooking oil, but I do not for this step. Finally, add in the noodles to the pan, the minced garlic, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil (a tablespoon seems like a lot, and I usually avoid oil in my diet, but for this dish it is essential for the sesame flavor and the characteristic glistening texture). Toss until well combined + sprinkle with sesame to serve!

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How to Say Key Vegan Phrases

First off, you’ll need to be able to explain to people that you don’t eat meat and dairy “products.” The terms “vegan” and “vegetarian” are interchangeable in the Korean language because the vegan lifestyle is still pretty new there. So here are some key terms to help ya out:

“I’m vegan.”

나는 채식주의 자야.

(Naneun chaesigjuui jaya.)

 

“Are there animal-derived products in this?”

동물성 식품 들어있어요?
(Dongmoolsung shikpoom deuluhissuhyo?)

 

“Please don’t put meat or eggs in it.”

고기하고 계란 넣지 마세요.
(Gogihago gyeran nuhji maseyo.)

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Note: All traditional Korean food is dairy-free, so as long as you’re eating authentic cuisine, you’re good to go on the dairy “product” front.

What to Eat at a Traditional Meal

At every meal (breakfast, lunch, AND dinner), you always have a bowl of rice to yourself plus a bunch of side dishes (banchan) in the center of the table that you share with everyone. Many of these dishes are already vegan!

The following are generally safe to eat: gim (seaweed), namul (cooked veggies), pickled garlic, gochujang (red pepper paste), deongjang (fermented bean paste), vegetable buchingae (savory pancakes), and yeongeun jorim (candied lotus root).

Usually during a meal, you’ll be served soup or stew. Korean stews are often flavored with fish or pork, so be sure to ask if it contains meat. Kimchi is a dish traditionally made with fish sauce, although vegan kimchi is becoming easier to find. Japchae (a glass noodle dish) can sometimes be nonvegan, so ask if there’s meat in it when you order.

Finding Vegan-Friendly Restaurants

The easiest way to find restaurants with vegan options is to use HappyCow.net. Some notable vegan restaurants in the country include the following:

Living as a Vegan in Korea

Are you planning to move to Korea and worried that you might not be able to enjoy American vegan goodies such as Follow Your Heart Cheese or Field Roast sausage? Well, fear not, because many online vegan stores ship worldwide! You can order vegan items from sites such as VeganEssentials.com or iHerb.com and skip out on the FOMO. 🙂

Need even more help finding Korean cuisine that’s kind to animals? Check out our Guide to Eating Vegan (as a Korean!).