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’.
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”).
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.
Two 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.
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.