5 Vegetarian Restaurants in Seoul
KARRYN MILLER takes a crisp bite out of the Korean capital's leafier side, now ripe with vegetarian fare.
Published on May 26, 2016
IT IS HARD TO THINK ABOUT Korean cuisine without picturing heaping piles of raw meat primed for the barbecue. There is prevailing attitude in Seoul that meat-free diets are for the pious or poor, which long has resulted in a dearth of vegetarian-friendly dining options. The last few years, however, have seen a surging public interest in healthier eating, combined with an effort to promote traditional Korean temple cuisine—which is prepared without meat, fish, MSG, garlic, onion or leek—to foreign visitors, and an influx of entrepreneurial cooks from overseas. All of this has fomented a vegetarian awakening in Seoul, exemplified by the five outposts below.
Dishing up creative vegan cuisine in a cozy setting in the backstreets of bustling Itaewon, Plant feels as if you're sitting in owner Mipa's home as she cooks melt-in-your-mouth dairy-free desserts like mocha-espresso layer cake, as well as a rotating lineup of lunch options ranging from healthy but filling salads to meat-free comfort foods. The funky café was born out of her home business—an online vegan bakeshop—but, luckily for us, as the demand grew so did the need for a storefront. +63-15 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu; +82 70 4115 8388.
Harvest salad with roasted squash at Plant. Courtesy of Plant.
2. CAFE SLOBBIE
While not 100 percent vegetarian, the curiously named Slobbie is veggie-friendly, and options include letter-of-the-law Buddhist cuisine, with no onions or garlic. The hip café in the university district of Hongdae embraces the slow-food movement, sourcing produce from local farmers. The Korean set meals are best washed down with a flavored makgeolli, a milky sweet fermented rice wine, from the café's impressive selection. 163-9 Donggyodong, Mapo-gu; +82 2 3143 5525.
Sanchon is one of the many temple-cuisine restaurants in Insadong, but it is hidden away off the main tourist drag. Founded by a monk in the 1980s, it is a mainstay for visiting vegans seeking traditional Korean cuisine minus the ubiquitous meat and seafood. The hearty multicourse set menu includes veggie versions of well-known dishes like jeon (a Korean savory pancake) and fish-free kimchi, while also highlighting lesser-known local vegetables and mountain herbs. 30-13 Kwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu; +82 2 735 0312.
Temple food in bloom. Courtesy of Korea Tourism Organization.
Opened in late 2015, Insarang is a vibrant addition to Insadong's dining scene. The café offers totally vegetarian traditional Korean monastic dishes in a more modern setting than its nearby counterparts. The airy second-floor space is also ideal for people-watching as it looks over one of Seoul's most popular (mainly) pedestrian streets. Try the lotus-leaf rice set paired with chrysanthemum tea. 2F, 24 Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu; +82 70 4162 2533.
Seasonal bibimbap at Insarang. Karryn Miller.
5. COOK AND BOOK
Cook and Book in one of Seoul's happening student enclaves, this eatery has opted for a casual approach with both food and ambiance. The eclectic retro seating calls for guests to linger with a book from the café's shelves, while enjoying an open-faced veggie burger or vegan treats like a double-layer Oreo cake. 361-26 Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu; +82 2 325 1028.