Eating vegan or vegetarian on the road

You know the feeling…
[Do correct me if I’m wrong assuming that everyone has that feeling every once in a while!]

You just want to get away.
The need for a change of scenery.
Escape from the daily routine, that same old rut.

So what do you do?

Get in the car🚙, grab your bike🏍 or take a public bus🚌?
Hop on the train🚂 or buy a plane ticket✈️ to get far, far away?
Simply move around?🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️
Or is changing the furniture in your room enough? 🛋🌪🛏

Let’s consider moving in the sense of traveling.

Especially winter and the holiday season are popular times to go on a trip!
Maybe you’ve already returned from your vacation or are eagerly waiting for your journey to begin? 🏕🛫🤸‍♂️

In case you are ever planning to travel Korea on the road ⛰🛣🗻, you are bound to stop at one of those rest areas aka service areas located near highways across the peninsula!

In Korean, they are called hyugeso (휴게소) and in short, they offer vital aid with regards to basic human necessities:

Public toilets 🚻 (clean and free off charge!!!), smoking areas 🚬 and, last but not least, food [and coffee].🍴

Sources of food and beverages are restaurants, snack shops as well as convenience stores, which operate at differing hours and possess menus varying by location and season – regional specialties included! Yet, there are a couple of food items which all have in common and even some which are available only at those rest areas, in fact.

Whether you explore Korea on a road trip in/on a private car, motorcycle or bike, or you use the express bus service (gosok beoseu 고속버스) to get from one city to another, a hyugeso is an important destination mid-way. 📍🗺

If you travel Korea with a long distance bus, then you will stop at a rest area after approximately 90 to 120 minutes. And then you normally have 15 minutes before the bus departs again. That means, 15 minutes for EVERYTHING YOU COULDN’T DO INSIDE THE BUS: Relieving yourself at the rest rooms, stretching your legs, smoking a cigarette, finding a souvenir or last-minute present, buying new batteries / sunglasses you forgot at home and grabbing a bite to eat or that essential caffeine – just to mention a few examples. There’s simply SO much to do! So… ⏱ Time to act quickly!!!!

And to make the journey more enjoyable (and less hangry) and the short break more efficient (and less stressful), here’s a compilation of vegan🌱 and vegetarian foods that you can typically find at any highway rest area in Korea.

Veggie-friendly food at Korean highway rest areas

At each location, the restaurants have varying menus and there may not be enough time to sit down to enjoy a full meal. 🍽 Here’s a list of veggie-friendly Korean dishes – chances are there is at least one restaurant that offers Bibimbap!

But when time is limited, the snack section outdoors is the place to go!

There are various food stalls or snack shops, which sell certain foods for take-away. 🥡 Among those, you will find a couple of vegan options!

🌱 Vegan foods commonly available at Korean highway rest areas:

  • roasted chestnuts 🌰 (gun bam 군 밤)
  • roasted sweet potatoes 🍠 (gun goguma 군 고구마)
  • steamed corn 🌽 (jjin oksusu 찐옥수수) – roasted corn is often buttered!
  • pan-fried potatoes 🥔 (tong-gamja 통감자 / algamja 알감자): small potatoes fried in plant-based oil, often whole and not peeled
  • sweet potato sticks 🍟 (goguma seutik 고구마스틱): deep fried and crunchy!
  • roasted rice cakes 🍡 (garae-tteok gu-i 가래떡구이): plain white rice cakes, without any filling or sauce
  • dried persimmons 🍅 (gam-malaengi 감말랭이)
  • fresh figs (muhwagwa 무화과) – seasonal only
  • fresh strawberries 🍓 (ttalgi 딸기) – seasonal only
  • [list will be extended, as new items are discovered!]

As you can see, most of these are vegetables and fruit or plain rice cakes, which are hardly processed. 💧 Basic vegan snacks. 🌱 Simple but energizing. 💪 [Be aware that they are normally only lightly seasoned. In fact, most options taste either bland or somewhat sweet.]

Above list may seem short, but they are traditional Korean🇰🇷 snacks, which are vegan by default and widely available throughout the country! And here are tips on how to find and identify them quickly: There is a type of vendor which mainly sells agricultural produce such as fruit, chestnuts and sweet potatoes. You can buy most vegan snacks there! Also look out for the food stalls which have a massive oven, that’s where chestnuts and sweet potatoes are roasted! 😉

🥚🥛 For vegetarians, there will be PLENTY of additional snacks – mostly sweet, however: Characteristic foods here are for example syrup-filled pancakes (hotteok 호떡), fried rice balls (chapssal doneocheu 찹쌀도너츠) and the so-called “walnut bread” aka hodugwaja (호두과자), which are filled with red bean paste and contain only a few chunks of actual walnut. They are too numerous to list them all and easier to identify in general. There will be regional specialties as well, which means that they are only available in the area you are traveling through.

☕️🍵🥤 Besides food, there are of course also hot drinks like coffee and tea, refreshing beverages as well as juices. You can find them (bottled) at the convenience store or (in to-go-cups) at small coffee shops – some of the common franchises might be present as well!

After all, it is up to you whether you devour the quickly hunted prey right away – be that while sitting on one of those picnic benches or while checking out the rest of the location. 🏃‍♀️ 🥡 Alternatively, you may also take it on board and munch on it while driving. 🚌🥡 As long as the food is not overtly smelly or messy to eat, then neither (bus) driver nor fellow passengers should mind. 😉 [On a side note… Did you ever experience the smell of dried squid inside a car? 🦑 Pescetarians, be warned. ⚠️ The olfactory traces of your deed will not disappear for DAYS. Have mercy with animals AND humans before purchasing this typical Korean snack. Your car rental company will be grateful, too. 😜]

Anyways, next time you stop at a Korean highway rest area, you’re hopefully faster at finding what you need! 🚻🏃‍♂️🥡🏃‍♀️🥤

Happy hunting and have fun exploring! 💚

By the way, now that Christmas🎄, Hanukkah🕎 and New Year’s Eve 🎆 are over, a traditional Asian holiday is approaching: Lunar New Year!

Did you make plans for celebrating this holiday yet?

In case you are currently in Korea and want to travel around, then it’s best to act quickly – travel tickets sell out fast in this season! ✈️🎫🚂🎫🚌

Scenery around Gongju (공주), an area famous for growing chestnuts. View from the road in June 2019. Imagine the smell of chestnut flowers! 😜

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