5 Easy-to-Find Vegetarian (and Vegan) Dishes in Korea

How to manage vegetarianism in Korea without knowing the language? Being a plant-based eater doesn’t exactly help as Koreans have a growing appetite for meat dishes while fish has always been part of their staple diet.

But, of course, with a bit of willpower, hand gestures, and a few basic tricks, you’ll quickly learn not just to survive but, even better, to indulge in Korean culinary delights, some of which are ingredient-based. surprisingly simple.



Kim, or gim means “seaweed,” and kimbap are Korean seaweed rice rolls. It is the Korean version of the generally better known Japanese sushi.

Kimbap restaurants offer a list of varieties, including take-out, but the most basic and cheapest, at the top of the menu list, usually includes pickled yellow radishes, eggs, spinach, sliced ​​carrots and ham . Sometimes a slice of surimi is added or comes instead of ham. So while it’s not a vegetarian dish per se, it’s easy to order it as is, as well as in a vegan version.

So how do you request a vegetarian/vegan version?
– Ask for yatze kimbap — yatze, or yachae means vegetables.
– Kimbap ingredients are still visible in the containers as the food is prepared on a counter along the restaurant window rather than in the kitchen. Simply point to the ingredients you don’t want and wave your finger ‘no’ or cross your forearms – a common gesture in Korea to indicate ‘no’, ‘no’ or ‘not possible’.


kmvis-kor-2.bibimbap.jpg Remember the bap? Here is another steamed rice dish. Bibim means “mixed”, justifying a mixed steamed rice dish. You will get a bowl with colorful vegetables and mushrooms, topped with a fried egg and a stainless steel bowl with hot rice and a side dish with gochujang, a thick dark red chili paste.

On the table you will find an additional range of side dishes, mostly vegetables and mushrooms. Tofu, meat and/or fish dishes can also be included.

You mix the rice with the contents of your bowl, add as much hot sauce as you like, and eat it with a spoon (in Korea, rice is eaten with a spoon), while munching on the sides with your chopsticks. A side dish is empty and you want more? Just ask for a refill – it’s included in the price.

While the egg is an integral part of the mix, you can order your bibimbap without it for a vegan alternative:
– Gyeran means egg, and to ask to omit the egg, you can say “Gyeran pe djuseo” (pe means “no” and djuseo means “please” – no egg please) .
– Or say “Gyeran word mogoyo” (“egg can’t eat”).


kmvis-kor-3.jeongsik.jpg Jeongsik, also called baekban jeongsik, is Korea’s set meal. A fixed price that gives you a bowl of steamed rice and a number of side dishes (banchan), a perfect way to try a variety of Korean dishes. If you finish a dish (or your rice), you can ask for more.

Jeongsik is a dish that you will eat at least two people, otherwise it can never be profitable for restaurants. The price is based on the type and number of side dishes – the most expensive version is called han-jeongsik.

Dishes will include a variety of leafy greens, mushrooms, seasoned seaweed, kimchi, vegetable pancakes and pickles as well as fish or meat. I have found, so far, that most dishes are vegetarian, but, of course, you can simply ask the server to omit animal foods using the tips mentioned above.


kmvis-kor-4.makguksu.jpgTwo handy words to remember: memil means “buckwheat” and guksu means “noodles” – these ingredients come in different combinations.

Makguksu is a perfect summer meal. I should add that buckwheat noodles are cooked in broth, which can be meat or vegetable based. When I asked if the dish was vegetarian the answer was yes, but due to lack of language I was never sure about the broth. Makguksu is served in ice water with sliced ​​cucumber and radish and with seaweed and sesame seeds.

Since vegetarian food is not that common in Korea, not all cooks may realize that meat-based broth does not fit a vegetarian lifestyle, so this part can always be a bit dicey when it comes to These are dishes prepared in broths.

If you don’t want to try your luck because of the broth but still want to try a buckwheat dish, opt for a memil jeon, a pancake made with a batter made from buckwheat flour and water filled with Green onions. and/or cabbage.


kmvis-kor-5.dubu jorim.jpg Tofu is an excellent meat substitute and many Korean restaurants offer tofu dishes on their menu. Dubu jorim, braised tofu, is a good option for spicy food lovers. Tofu slices are fried in oil until crisp then braised in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, onion, green onion, salt, hot pepper flakes, sugar and sesame seeds. Braised tofu is served with a number of banchan, as are the aforementioned dishes.

Tip: If you want other dishes with tofu, look up the characters for dubu, which means tofu.