Best 7 restaurants for the Seoul herbivore
Vegans and vegetarians in Seoul often have a difficult time finding somewhere to get their veggie fix, as a lot of dishes that seem vegetarian are actually anything but.
Kimchi, for example, is often made with fish sauce, while soy milk in Korea usually contains dairy.
But as Seoul’s vegan and vegetarian communities have grown in recent years, so have the choices, says Seoul foodie Mipa Lee, who blogs about eating vegan on AliensDayOut.com.
“There are more vegan-friendly restaurants popping up, and more that are entirely vegan -– you never used to see that,” says Lee.
So for all the famished herbivores out there, here's a bunch of veggie-recommended joints around town.
Born out of Buddhist beliefs, this completely vegan cuisine makes full use of Korea’s plentiful wild vegetables, roots and herbs to delicious effect.
The granddaddy of temple food is Sanchon, a decades-old mainstay of Seoul’s tradition-focused
The brainchild of former Buddhist priest Kim Yon-shik, Sanchon serves patrons the richly memorable fare monks would eat at a rural temple.
The never-ending dishes that crowd each burnished tabletop make a meal here a truly spiritual experience.
“Sanchon is literally one of the best vegan restaurants that I have been to in the world,” says Zeb Tortorici, a vegan traveler in Seoul. “For lunch or dinner, you get some 20 small plates of creative, delicious, and traditional vegetarian Buddhist food.”
VeganBeats blogger Sae Hee Burke favors a neighboring temple food contender, Baru (sometimes spelled Balwoo), which is operated by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.
Baru’s sophisticated, modern take on tradition packs in flavor, from heat-packing fried mushrooms to crisp, surprisingly sweet dried fruit chips. Two new Baru offshoots offer simpler and more affordable meals.
For anyone seeking a taste of temple food in the company of omnivores, a good but pricey option is Chaegundaam in southern Seoul. Part of the ritzy Hanmiri restaurant group, Chaegundam boasts a handsome decor that takes a page from feng shui, while its food incorporates high-quality, organic vegetables and mountain produce.
In addition to purely vegetarian options, the restaurant also features set menus with fresh beef and seasonal fish.
Insadong is a great neighborhood for vegan eats, and Osegye Hyang restaurant is one of the best in the area.
The menu sports affordable and reasonably authentic dishes like the spicy vegetarian barbecue ssambap, which tastes just like its meatier inspiration: lettuce-wrapped bites of hot, sliced pork and rice.
Osegye Hyang’s offerings come with plentiful side dishes including tangy kimchi and sweet-and-sour vegetarian “fish cakes,” both of which are free of fish ingredients.
Osegye Hyang shares its management with the Achasan branch of the Loving Hut international vegan franchise, but each restaurant is individually operated and the menus vary.
Most branches, including the Sinchon one, serve low-priced versions of pungent doenjang jjigae and bibimbap.
Interesting fact: Loving Hut does raise some eyebrows for its spiritual affiliation -– all managers of franchises must follow “Supreme Master” Ching Hai’s Quan Yin Method, which some label a cult.
Western Comfort Food
Sometimes, though, you’re just jonesing for a mouthwatering veggie burger.
Blogger Mipa Lee tabs the recently opened Honest Loving Hut (part of the franchise) as her favorite burger destination.
Sibling trio Gyuneon, Seyoung and Suau Kim manage this Itaewon restaurant, serving up Italian-tinged comfort food that matches its cozy decor.
Try the Roasted Veggie Burger, which uses a pineapple ring as its patty, or the Tofu Burger, with its tangy ketchup-like sauce and filling patty. The Truffle Oil Pasta comes heaped with earthy mushrooms.
Over in Cheongdam-dong, chef and food columnist Julie Choi runs her own charming veg-friendly eatery, So True. Choi does serve meat, but she says her focus is on local, seasonal ingredients. Her current signature dish is the cheese-free “vegetables yard” pizza, which comes loaded with vegetables and nuts. Avoid the jambalaya, though –- it’ll turn you into a fire-breather.
If cakes and scones are more your thing, check out Veggie Holic bakery in Hongdae.
The friendly owner, Ja Won Min, whips up low-sugar, low-salt goodies in her bright, cheerful shop.
While most items are vegan, a handful of items (marked with signs) do include dairy.
The tofu pizza roll is a soft bite of veggie-packed goodness, while the sunny yellow corn scone is dense and moist. The V brownie, though, tastes more like fruitcake.
14 Gwanghun-dong, Jongno-gu (종로구 관훈동 14); +82 2 735 0312; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; ₩22,000 for lunch, ₩39,600 for dinner (includes traditional performance).
Gongyang Templestay Information Center, 5/F, 71 Gyeongji-dong, Jongno-gu (종로구 견지동 71번지 템플스테이 통합정보센터 5층); +82 2 2031 2081; 11:40 a.m.-3 p.m., 6 p.m.-9 p.m. (Reservations must be made at least three days in advance.); ₩25,000 for 10-course meal, ₩36,000 for 12; ₩53,000 for 15.
Baru second branch
Gongyang Kong Templestay Information Center, 2/F, 71 Gyeongji-dong, Jongno-gu (종로구 견지동 71번지 템플스테이 통합정보센터 2층); +82 2 736 2083; 7:30 a.m.-10 a.m., 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; ₩3,000 for breakfast porridge, ₩5,000-9,000 for lunch dishes.
Ildong Building, B1, 983 Daechi-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 대치동 983 일동빌딩 별관 B1층); +82 2 555 9173, +82 2 555 9174, noon-2:30 p.m., 6 p.m.-10 p.m. (weekdays); noon-3:30 p.m., 6 p.m.-10 p.m. (weekends and holidays); ₩22,000 for vegetarian lunch set; ₩38,000-₩50,000 for vegetarian dinner set.
14-5 Insa-dong 12-gil, Jongno-gu (종로구 인사동 12길 14-512 ; +82 2 735 7171, noon-3 p.m. and 4 p.m.-9 p.m.; meals from ₩5,000.
Loving Hut (Sinchon branch)
33-10 Changcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu (서대문구 창천동 33-10), +82 2 333 8088; noon-9 p.m.; dishes from ₩3,500.
Western Comfort Food
Honest Loving Hut
2/F, 118-62 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu (용산구 이태원동 118-62 2층); +82 2 795 2111; 12-9 p.m. (closed Wednesday); ₩9,000-₩13,000 for salads; W12,000-₩15,000 for pastas; ₩9,900-₩14,900 for veggie burgers.
Jinseong Building, 58-6 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 삼성동 58-6 진성빌딩) +82 2 549 7288; noon-10 p.m. (Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday); ₩9,500 for lunch; ₩13,000 for salads; rice and pasta dishes from ₩15,000.
204-59 Donggyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 동교동 204-59); + 82 70 4114 0458; 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; baked goods from ₩1,500.