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Recently, a reader emailed me with lots of questions about my experience living in South Korea as well as some questions about certain ingredients in Korean foods. As we communicated back-and-forth, she expressed that she wants to potentially move to Seoul but has concerns because of her vegan lifestyle. For much of our conversations, we discussed the difficulties of eating with specific culinary diets and limitations in South Korea.
After discussing my experience being gluten-free in South Korea, and the realities of veganism, I decided I should write about this topic. After all, many other readers, including some of my closest vegan friends, might be curious about veganism in Korea as well.
Honestly, like the gluten-free lifestyle, living vegan in South Korea can be difficult if you do not know the food traditions, eating culture, and cannot communicate in the Korean language. The culinary experience for vegans traveling to South Korea can be quite frustrating without adequate research. For this reason, I wanted to give some pointers on what to expect when traveling to South Korea, how to say the term ‘vegan,’ and some resources for vegan Korean recipes!
Next time, I will publish an article listing specific Korean foods that are naturally vegan!
How Do You Say Vegan in Korean?
In the Korean language, people use two terms when referring to veganism:
- The word ‘chaesik’ (채식) is the Korean word that refers to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle in South Korea. However, you need to be careful when using this word, as ‘chaesik’ includes ‘bideongjuui’ (비덩주의), which permits consumption of non-solid animal products such as bone broth and fish sauce. This concept stems from the fact that it is almost impossible to get fully vegetarian/vegan meals at a restaurant, so many Koreans make a compromise. In the end, ‘채식’ in Korean might not satisfy the requirement of the common definition of vegetarianism and/or veganism, especially for those who adhere strictly to this diet. Finally, take note that the word for veganism and vegetarianism is the same because these concepts are relatively new.
- The second term, ‘비건’ stems from English. ‘비건’ is the Korean pronunciation of the English word ‘vegan.’ You would pronounce it as ‘bi-geon.’
Veganism in South Korea
For the longest time, if someone asked my husband or me about living in South Korea as a vegan, we would state that it is almost impossible. Meat and seafood are used in almost every recipe. Items that seem vegan often contain hidden ingredients i.e. fish sauce in kimchi or bone broth in a tofu-based stew.
That being said, thankfully, the vegan lifestyle movement has officially started among younger generations. Nowadays, if you reach out and connect, you can find pockets of vegan communities as well as restaurants throughout the country.
Below, we give helpful hints about finding a vegan community and restaurants in South Korea.
Eat in Traditional Buddhist Restaurants:
In South Korea, devout Buddhist monks and followers have always eaten vegan for religious reasons. Thus, I recommend eating at traditional Buddhist temples through temple stays or eating in Buddhist restaurants. To find these restaurants look for the word for temple food ‘사찰음식.’
I wrote about temple food before when I published my recipes for traditional kim bugak (Korean fried seaweed snack) as well as my rice paper kim bugak hack.
Whether you intend to live in South Korea or visit for two weeks, look for vegan communities before you head overseas. I recommend looking at the Facebook group ‘The Seoul Veggie Club.’ There, people connect with other vegans to ask questions and share their experiences. It is a great source for vegan-safe restaurants, experiences, and products in South Korea!
Nowadays you can even take part in vegan food tours through private individuals or tour companies!
Take Part in Festivals:
Another way to build community in South Korea is by taking part in annual Vegan festivals taking place across South Korea. I recommend checking out the Seoul Vegan Festival and Vegan Festa. There, you can meet other people with similar lifestyles as well as sign-up for future meet-ups and events.
Vegan Groceries In South Korea:
When cooking at home, you can typically find vegan ingredients in grocery stores. In South Korea, shops like E-Mart or Homeplus carry basic vegan needs such as fruits, vegetables, sauces, tofu, and more.
Further, I recommend shopping online at iherb or Veganspace for harder-to-find ingredients, vegan beauty products, and more. Iherb is an international food, vitamin, and beauty-goods website that ships to South Korea. Veganspace is a fully vegan grocery located in Seoul. You can visit their site or Instagram page.
Outside of South Korea, large Asian grocery stores like H-Mart typically carry vegan Korean, Japanese, and Chinese vegan options for their international communities.
Learn to Cook Vegan Korean Food:
Finally, for those interested in cooking Korean vegan food, I recommend checking out the Youtube channel 베지이즈 Vege is. This channel is entirely vegetable-based and run by the very famous Korean Youtuber who also runs 우리의식탁 W TABLE.
Finally, Gabie Kook, a trained Korean chef, and Youtuber based in London, England, has published some delicious vegan recipes on her channel.
We Hope You Enjoyed Learning About Veganism in South Korea!
In the end, we hope you enjoyed learning about veganism in South Korea. If so, let us know in the comment section below. Also, let us know if you have any further questions or want me to write about a particular topic. I love getting ideas from readers!
Like I stated above, I will publish an article listing specific Korean foods that are naturally vegan next!
If you would like to read more about cooking, you can find further recipes on our blog. We listed some of our favorite Carving A Journey Korean recipes below! For reference, many recipes are influenced by our blended Korean and Southern heritage.
Carving A Journey Vegan Korean Recipes:
- Jumeokbap (Handmade Korean Rice Balls)
- Kim Bugak (Traditional Fried Seaweed Snacks); And
- Rice Paper Kim Bugak
If you have any questions or comments, you can also email us at [email protected].
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