Growing up half Korean and having spent half my childhood living in Seoul, I absolutely LOVE Korean food! To this very day, there’s nothing that comforts me like a warm bowl of doenjang chigae (soybean paste stew). When I stopped eating animal products, I was super-worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy Korean cuisine ever again. Little did I know that many dishes can be easily “veganized.” Making the transition to eating vegan Korean food is easy. Here are some quick tips to get you started:
1. Avoid the fishies. Lots of fermented dishes, like kimchi (mixed spicy and sour veggies), traditionally contain fish sauce, oysters, or shrimp—but nowadays, many brands are selling vegan versions that have the same great taste. You can easily find fish-free kimchi at any health-food store! 2. Focus on the banchans (aka “the zillions of yummy side dishes”). During any typical Korean meal, your table will be filled with tons of side dishes for everyone to share. Look for things like namul (cooked veggies) and potatoes.
3. Know your options when dining out. Nearly every Korean restaurant will have a selection of vegan-friendly dishes. Look for choices like vegetable soondubu chigae (tofu stew), tofu mandu (dumplings), and bibimbap (rice with a bunch of cooked veggies thrown on top). Bibimbap is often served with meat and eggs, but you can ask the server to replace them with tofu. It’s also easy to make vegan Korean dishes at home. Here’s a list of recipes that will make you exclaim, “Mashita!” (“Delicious!”), and, most importantly, don’t include animal products:
The rice used for Japanese-style sushi rolls typically has rice vinegar and sugar mixed into it. The rice in kimbap, however, is seasoned with sesame oil and salt, which gives it a different flavor. Kimbap is sometimes made with tuna, beef, Spam, or some scrambled egg, but this vegan version—which uses veggies and tofu—will fill you up without harming animals.
Japchae is always a crowd-pleaser, and it can easily be made vegan by ordering it or making it without the pork. The chewy noodles paired with mushrooms, carrots, and other veggies are perfect as a side dish or the main course.
Pajeon is often made with eggs and cut-up squid, but this version leaves that stuff out. Tip: Make a delicious dipping sauce by combining equal parts soy sauce, white vinegar, and a dash of red pepper flakes. This sauce will liven up any meal!
Although I’ve never had a bulgogi sandwich before, this looked too delicious to leave off this list—especially if you’re into fusion cuisine.
Growing up, we made this whenever we needed to clean out the fridge before grocery-shopping day. It’s a very versatile, “use-whatever-you-have-left-over” kind of meal. Veggies, rice, and gochujang (red chili paste) make up the heart of this dish, and it’s especially yummy when it’s served in a hot stone bowl.
This is my favorite food by far—in any culture! The best part is that you can use anything you want as a filling. And you can fry them or steam them, so they’re very versatile.
Who doesn’t love a good ol’ bowl of ramen? You can find ramyeon almost anywhere, but to ensure that it’s vegan, make your own!
If I had to pick a favorite street food, ddeokbokki would def be the winner. Don’t let the words “rice cake” scare you—these are more like fat, doughy, gigantic pieces of pasta smothered in a spicy sauce. They’re typically made with fish cakes. A popular option is to add a package of ramen noodles to kick things up a notch.
What Korean food list would be complete without a kimchi recipe? There are many different types of kimchi, but the most iconic is made with cabbage and hot chilies, which are then fermented underground for some time. Its pungent flavor is distinctive but can round out any Korean meal. Some store-bought brands are vegan.