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Travelling to South Korea as a Vegan

Apr 12, 2024 | Popular Reads, South Korea, Travel Tips

We know that finding vegan food in South Korea can be challenging, but the country is quickly becoming more vegan-friendly. Although most Korean cuisine is meat and/or seafood-based, including stocks and seasonings, there is no need to avoid it altogether.

Tips From Our Vegan Guest, April

If you plan to visit this beautiful country, here are our top 5 tips to help you out, along with some personal insights from one of our vegan travellers, April who joined us on tour in May 2024.

1. Download the HappyCow app

The HappyCow allows you to search for plant-based establishments worldwide, including restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, bakeries, juice bars, and farmers’ markets. According to April,

“I can’t stress how vital the HappyCow app is for Korea. Without it, I’m not sure my experience would have been the same. This is essential and will make your food experience in Korea a great one.”

Tour guest, April enjoys a vegan snack while on a food tour with One Life in Seoul, Korea

April enjoys a selection of vegan snacks while on the One Life food tour activity at the famous Gwangjang Market, Seoul

2. Use Google Translate

Communicating dietary requirements can be difficult if you don’t speak Korean, so Google Translate will be your best friend. While there is a word for vegan in Korean, many locals may not understand it. The easiest way to communicate that you’re a vegan is to say that you’re a vegetarian (채식) and then remove the foods you cannot eat individually (meat, eggs, seafood, milk, cheese, etc.).

Temple stay with One Life Adventures, tour group eating all vegan meals, South Korea

During the Temple Stay with One Life Adventures all meals are vegan

3. Eat Accidental Korean Vegan Dishes

There are a few Korean dishes which are vegan by accident or can easily be made vegan.

Main Dishes:

    • Bibimbap, mixed rice (make sure you say no meat or egg)
    • Gimbap, Korean Sushi (make sure you say no egg or fish)
    • Japchae, stir fry with sweet potato noodles (make sure you say no meat or fish)
    • Pajeon, spring onion pancake (make sure you say no egg or seafood)

Snacks:

    • Hobakjuk, pumpkin porridge
    • Gamjajeon, potato pancake
    • Hotteok, sweet cinnamon pancake
    • Chapssaltteok, sweet red bean rice cake
    • Songpyeon, rice cake (make sure you say ‘no honey’)

Always explain your dietary requirements when ordering any of these dishes.

April’s favorite dish was a noodle salad in Gyeongju.

“At a local restaurant known for traditional clam soup, I had very little hope of eating. But through translation from our guide and the incredibly warm, friendly nature of the family running the restaurant, they crafted a dish I could eat. It was fresh and simple. The best part was the reaction of the ladies enjoying me eating the meal, happy they could help. Everyone left with a massive smile on their face.”

One Life Adventures tour guest, April, holds her vegan noodle dish in a restaurant in Jeonju, Korea
There are also new vegan dishes being introduced in Korean convenience stores, such as kimbap, mandu, and burgers in the CUs and 7 Elevens. April notes her favorite convenience store buys:

Iced Oat Espresso — stock up, they are only in selected stores. I treated myself to one nearly every day. Tofu Chips are a premium snack—don’t be put off by the name.”

Vegan tour guest holding Oat Espresso drink in South Korea

4. Join Korean Facebook Groups

Before your trip, search on Facebook for Vegan Groups, during your trip when you arrive at a new destination ask the group for recommendations.

5. Eat in Western restaurants

Western restaurants in South Korea are more likely to have staff who speak English and can accommodate vegan dietary requirements. Indian restaurants, in particular, offer many plant-based dishes, but be sure to check that the food is not cooked with ghee.

April found some fantastic vegan options during her trip. In Seoul’s Itaewon district, there are plenty of vegan-friendly places, including authentic vegan restaurants. She particularly enjoyed Alt.a, which offers a blend of Korean and Chinese cuisine along with good wine. For group meals, she recommends Parc Seoul, which caters well to vegans. Another unique spot is Vegan Kitchen in Myeongdong, where food is served by a robot and is conveniently located near the starting hostel.

One Life Adventures tour group eat together at Parc Seoul Vegan Restaurant, Korea

Tour group opt to eat together at Parc Seoul Vegan Restaurant, South Korea

April’s Top Tip:

“Download the HappyCow app. This will be your guide and savior in South Korea.”

Hardest part:

“Don’t expect everywhere to understand or be able to cater to your needs. Vegan is still not a common concept, so unless you are with a Korean speaker, places you know will have options are recommended if you want to eat well.”

Interested in visiting South Korea? Join One Life Adventures for a 10-day or 13-day tour and make lifelong friends and memories.