Triple P: Gamja-jeon 감자전

Korean potato pancakes served with dipping sauce.

Three syllables:

gam 감.
ja 자.
jeon 전.

Three ingredients:

– potatoes
– salt
– vegetable oil.

What does this result in?

Three words:

Pure
Potato
Pancakes.

In other words, gamja-jeon is a type of Korean pancake, which mainly consists of potatoes. The pancake batter does not contain eggs 🚫🥚 nor cereals 🚫🌾, making this dish originally vegan and gluten free. In short, finely ground potatoes are fried on a hot pan or iron plate in plenty of oil, until they turn slightly brown. The final pancakes are either cut into small pieces or served whole, after which they may be individually torn into bite-sized portions using chopsticks. Since the batter itself is hardly seasoned, these pancakes come with a corresponding dip, which is based on soy sauce, and are thus a savory dish.

Gamja-jeon roughly resemble hash browns🇺🇸, German Kartoffelpuffer🇩🇪 or Swiss Rösti🇨🇭, but upon looking closely, the ingredients, way of serving, taste and texture of each are different. Even inside Korea, there will be variations regarding the size, toppings, thickness and texture of this type of potato pancake. 🥞🥔 Only rarely are there other vegetables added to the basic potato batter. Hence, an alternative name for this dish could be “plain potato pancake”.

Where to find:
In Korean culture, gamja-jeon is a dish typically (but not necessarily) consumed in combination with alcohol, thus it belongs to the food category anju (안주). 🍶 Correspondingly, these potato pancakes are mostly found in Korean pubs, which offer traditional liquors such as makgeolli (막걸리 – rice wine) or soju (소주). But it is absolutely not obligatory to drink alcohol to enjoy these! In Korean pubs, the food is expensive and the drinks are cheap, so it’s okay to order only pancakes, which cost between 10.000 and 15.000 KRW per serving. Just be aware of the fact that Korean pancakes are customarily shared and snacked on while drinking in company 👥 – this is also why their price is higher than non-anju dishes in regular restaurants. In either way, make sure to enjoy the pancakes while they are hot (and crispy)! 🤤 They taste slightly different at each location and peoples’ preferences vary. Personally, I like gamja-jeon best, when the outside is crispy and the potato dough is chewy inside! It’s one of my comfort foods – greasy, savory and crispy – something I crave especially after a hangover… 🍻🤪💥🤢

Thick, medium-sized potato pancakes decorated with chili

After all, gamja-jeon combines also these three concepts in one:
🥞 Pancakes
🥂 Drinking
🥔 Plant-power (👉 vegan🌱).

Maybe I should add a few more “p“s to its title…

Taste of green: Nokcha 녹차 and Ssuk 쑥

Matcha icecream on matcha frappucino next to matcha cake. Photographed in Gyeongju 2018.

                 🥦🥒🍏🥝🥗
💚 Greeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen! 💚
Isn’t green food fascinating?

Who does not know about green tea powder alias matcha* and its current use as an eye-catching addition to foods? It frequently appears in East Asian products and by now, it is advancing globally into the spheres of innovative as well as health-conscious food production. At first, the vibrant green may appear alarming to some 🤢, but the fascinating color and intricate bitter taste eventually manages to bewitch matcha enthusiasts all over the world. 🍵🧙‍♂️

But who knows the source of ⬇️this beautiful deep-green color? 👽

“Ssuk tarte” by patisserie Arari Ovene 아라리오브네 in Seoul 2017.

This, may I introduce, is thanks to mugwort (Artemisia princeps), whose Korean name is ssuk (쑥). 🌲🧚‍♀️ Isn’t the color enchanting?

Ssuk is a native herb, which is rather important in Korean culture** – most particularly in its cuisine featuring the characteristic ingredient in savory main dishes, desserts as well as beverages.🌿 In Korea, the plant, which grows like weed in nature, is consumed when its leaves are still young and soft. 🌱 Early spring is the only season it is harvested, so you will see foods featuring (fresh) mugwort on the seasonal menu of many cafes and restaurants during this period! The young seedlings grow quickly into a tall plant with leaves too stringy and hard to be chewed. Nevertheless, you can encounter many food items flavored and colored with mugwort throughout the year: Rice cakes, bakery products, latte etc. Yet, in such cases, mugwort is used in dried form, most likely as a powder made from the young plants, which were harvested in spring, dried and then finely ground.

In cooking, baking and beverages, ssuk contributes its turquoise-green color (when used as powder) and additionally stringy texture (when used fresh) to the respective food item. Typical for ssuk is its distinct herbal scent, for which it is being cherished by most Koreans. When ssuk is eaten raw or in large amounts, however, its bitter taste may be perceived most prominently.

Dried mugwort leaves brewed into tea.

Furthermore, ssuk is ascribed positive effects on the health – especially beneficial to women. To provide an example, in Korea, tea from dried mugwort leaves is supposed to strengthen and warm the body from the inside. (But since I am no expert in traditional herbal medicine, I do not feel qualified to explain this phenomenon.) In correspondence with its medicinal properties, mugwort is generally quite significant in Traditional Chinese Medicine – moxibustion is a common application of mugwort, which even people outside the East Asian culture sphere may have heard of already.

Mature mugwort growing on the side of the road in Germany.

In fact, mugwort also exists in Europe. In Germany, the herb is referred to as “Beifuß” and has traditionally been used as a spice – but here, the dried flowers of the adult plant are used! A famous German dish featuring dried mugwort flowers is the roasted goose prepared on Christmas (“Gänsebraten mit Beifuß” or “Weihnachtsgans”). 🎅🎄 Perhaps, you happen to have grown up in a family that customarily uses this herb? Or are you familiar with this plant for some other reason? After all, it is possible that the two of you have already been acquainted! You just weren’t aware of it. 🙂

In conclusion, Korean cuisine exhibits a wide arrange of natural food colorants. 🌶🎃🌿🍵🍠🍓 But beside color, they also endow the food with their specific aroma, which may be appealing to some but repulsive to others.

In the given cases of green tea and mugwort, for example, many children dislike them for their bitter taste. Mugwort’s strong herbal scent may also be associated with [bad childhood memories of] “healthy foods” that were forced down for the sake of well-being. 🤒💊 (Comparable perhaps to Westerners drinking herbal teas from chamomile or fennel.) Other people, however, enjoy the distinct aroma and choose it over plain options.

Gelato with green tea flavor (left) and mugwort flavor topped with roasted soy powder (right) at Scooper Gelato (스쿠퍼젤라또) in Seoul, August 2019.

Either way, I urge you to be brave and at least give it a try. It is best decide for yourself, whether you may grow to like it or whether you prefer the pure, mild taste of white rice and vanilla ice cream. 🍚🍦

There is so much to discover in Korea’s colorful and flavorful (and healthy) cuisine! ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜🖤 [More on other edible colors in a future post!]

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Additional notes by the author:

*) Matcha is the Japanese reading of ‘抹茶’ (ground tea), which is pronounced “mǒchá” in mandarin Chinese. The Korean reading of the same characters is malda (말다), but it is often referred to as malcha (말차) or simply called nokcha (녹차), which means green tea.

**) In terms of culture, let me just briefly mention the “Tale of Danggun” (당군신화), one of Korea’s creation myths, in which the consumption of mugwort as well as garlic play a decisive role on how the narrative evolves.

Dessert of the rich and noble: Yakgwa 약과

Once upon a time, there was yakgwa, a noble and beloved treat, which contained the following basic ingredients:

  • white wheat flour
  • oil
  • honey

All of these ingredients used to be precious and expensive 💲, so for centuries, yakgwa was cherished mostly among the upper class and at court. Prior to the machinized age, producing white wheat flour involved a long process of removing the hulls and skin of wheat grains and then grinding the core into a fine powder. An effort which was not undergone for the normal man’s daily meal. On top of that, wheat was not as common as rice or other cereals. 🌾 Oil (especially sesame oil) as well as nuts and seeds were historically treasured for their nourishing powers. Honey, lastly, was not only appreciated for its sweet taste but also for the health benefits ascribed to it. 🍯 Occasionally, its dough was upgraded with exotic spices such as black pepper, ginger and cinnamon and decorated with expensive nuts and seeds.
With these ingredients, it was actually considered to possess medicinal properties. Hence one of its names is yakgwa (약과 藥菓), which can be translated as “medicine cookie”. 💊🍪

But today, yakgwa‘s image has drastically shifted:
As globalization has turned previously existing orders upside-down, so did also yakgwa not escape the influence of modern developments. Judging from contemporary tastes, this dessert is hardly sweet at all. One can taste a note of honey or syrup, but the level of sweetness is quite low in comparison to modern desserts such as milk chocolate, icecream or cupcakes. 🍦 Perhaps due to mass-production, honey is no essential ingredient anymore, so some store-bought yakgwa can be found as vegan versions. Also, yakgwa are now more prized, when they are “embellished” with additional rice flour instead of containing 100% wheat flour.

In fact, also its consumers have changed. Since most Koreans of the younger generation have grown up with foods that are automatically seasoned with sugar or corn syrup, they have a higher tolerance of sugar levels and prefer more intensely flavored desserts.
Beside the subtle sweetness, this confectionery bears only hints of ginger, pepper or cinnamon – if these spices are added at all. Hence, mostly elderly Koreans or people with an ‘old-fashioned’ taste are fans of this mild dessert. Also the consistency and fat content may not appeal to everyone as these deep fried treats are quite rich. Frankly speaking, due to its unexciting consistency and oiliness I was initially not very fond of yakgwa, but my interest is growing as I learn about its variations and historical background. After all, it seems that yakgwa is easily overlooked next to contemporary sweets, which are literally glistening in all sorts of colors of the rainbow, blasting attractive scents and intense flavors.

Veganized yakgwa, jujube tea and green tea latte at a Korean tea house
(Dahyang Mandang 다향만당 in Seoul)

In general, yakgwa is produced by mixing flour, oil, honey and optional spices into a crumbly paste. The dough is then pressed into molds or shaped by cutting it into pieces, which are then fried in oil. Finally, the fried ‘cookies’ are bathed in a syrup, so that they absorb the sweet liquid. The production process may be reminiscent of Arab culture’s baklava, but yakgwa are less sweet and have no sticky, syrupy sauce attached to it. After all, this dessert can be considered a type of confectionery, rather than a bakery product.
In general, there exist two main types of yakgwa today: The most common one, which is normally flower-shaped, has a soft and slightly chewy consistency and is referred to as chapssal yakgwa (참쌀약과) when it contains glutinous rice flour . 🌸 The other one is called Gaeseong yakgwa (개성약과) or alternatively mo yakgwa (모약과), when it has a square or rectangular shape. 🔲 This latter type of yakgwa has a more brittle consistency and consists of several layers of dough similar to millefeuille or pastries. 🥐

Yakgwa and other traditional sweets sold at a store producing rice cakes (tteok jip 떡집)

Where to find:
In regards with traditional customs, however, yakgwa still bears significance during holidays or (e.g. wedding, ancestral) ceremonies. Outside such special occasions, one can encounter it in daily life as well. However, this historical confectionary is rarely offered in modern coffee shops but in Korean tea houses (jeontong chatjip 전통찻집), along with other traditional desserts and tea. Yakgwa are also sold individually or in boxes at supermarkets, snack stalls and the shops which produce rice cakes (tteok jip 떡집). While it used to be a luxurious dessert, it is now easily available and as affordable as regular snacks and sweets: One large piece costs around 1000 – 1500 KRW on average.

Nourish body and soul: Bindaeddeok 빈대떡

The weather is rainy. 🌧
It is simply cold outside.🍃
Or maybe you have a hangover from drinking too much…💥

Whatever be the case – if you have a craving for something warm, greasy, nourishing and hearty, then how about bindaeddeok (빈대떡)? 😉

Stacks of bindaeddeok at Gwangjang Market (광장시장)

This traditional Korean food is a pancake almost entirely made from mung beans, of which the most basic variant is originallyvegan! Basically, skinned mung beans are ground into a smooth batter, which is then fried in oil to create thick, savory pancakes. The batter normally does not need additional flour or eggs for stabilizing, so this dish is not only vegan but also gluten free. Nevertheless, the final pancakes are very filling, contain a mass of protein and are quite the indulgence! 🤤

In general, one can distinguish between two varieties: Plain pancakes vs. pancakes with chunky “fillings”. In the first version, the plain batter is used to make smooth, golden-colored pancakes. The latter contains chunks of additional ingredients, such as pieces of vegetables (e.g. bean sprouts, scallops, carrots) but occasionally also 🐟kimchi, 🦐seafood or 🥩meat. Since seafood and meat fillings normally cost extra, it is rather easy to confirm that your serving is ordered the way you prefer it! Needless to say, the flavor of the final dish changes along with the additional ingredients, and so does the texture shift from smooth and slightly grainy towards chunky and moist!

Similar to other Korean savory pancakes, bindaeddeok are served together with a complimentary sauce. When eating bindaeddeok, pieces of the pancake are dipped into the sauce (typically soy sauce with extra spices) and thus seasoned according to one’s personal preference.

Plain bindaeddeok at North Korean restaurant “Neungra Babsang” (능라밥상)

Besides the taste, there exist slight variations also in terms of name and appearance. For instance, an alternative name for bindaeddeok is nokdu jeon (녹두전 绿豆煎 – literally green bean pancake). In North Korea, on the other hand, these pancakes are called nokdu jijim (녹두지짐).

Also, sizes range from as big as plate-filling to smaller, bite-sized pancakes. The North Korean version, in particular, is prepared with a plain batter, which is occasionally topped with 🌶vegetables or a piece of 🐷pork for garnish.

After all, I warmly recommend clarifying prior to ordering what kind of topping or ‘filling’ will be used! You can easily eliminate meat, fish and seafood by asking something like this: “Hoksi gogi, saengseon ina haemul neo-eu-seoyo? 혹시 고기, 생선이나 해물 넣으세요? Are you putting meat, fish or seafood in this?” If the answer is no (“aniyo! 아니요!”), there should be no shocking surprise when food is served. 😉 However, in case you are allergic or follow strict rules, be aware that your food may nevertheless be cooked on the same grill as food that is not vegan, vegetarian, halal or kosher.

Where to find:
There are restaurants which specialize in such pancakes – these are normally identical with pubs serving traditional Korean alcohol (hanguk suljip 한국술집). 🍶🥞 In fact, bindaeddeok is commonly enjoyed in combination with alcohol, especially Korean rice wine (makgeolli 막걸리) and pancakes make a classic couple in Korean food culture.

Besides that, bindaeddeok are also sold outdoors at food stalls (preferably near subway stations or busy streets) or on traditional markets. At such locations, you can either eat one on the spot like typical Korean street food, or you can buy it for take-away. 🥡 In my opinion, however, they taste best, when they are still hot and crispy outside, while the inside is soft and juicy! 🤤

Overall, these pancakes are a rich and indulgent food item that is (at least in Korean minds) emotionally linked with social gatherings. In addition to that, they provide fuel to help you regain your strength, when you feel weak physically. Hence, I list bindaeddeok as one of my personal comfort foods in Korean cuisine. 💚🍴

What is your favorite comfort food? ☕️🌧 Anything other than chocolate?! 🍫
Or do you have a specific craving, when you have a hangover? 🤪

Seasonal treat: Spring greens


🐦Birds are singing.🕊
🌸Flowers are blooming.🌼
🦋Insects are buzzing around.🐝
🌱New leaves are sprouting on plants.🌿

It’s basically screaming in your face:
🌤 SPRING IS HERE!!!! 🌷

How else can you tell?
🤤Fresh spring greens (bom namul 봄나물) are back!!💚

Dishes made from tofu and spring greens (pictured: dol namul, dureup, bangpung namul, dallae)

Traditional Korean food is characterized by turning seasonal and local ingredients into diverse healthy and flavorful dishes. In particular, the abundance of side dishes consisting mainly of 🥦vegetables, 🍄mushrooms and 🌿wild herbs is a wonderful aspect for vegans, vegetarians and vegetable-lovers! 🤤💚🥕 And now, as spring greens are in season, these are used to upgrade dishes with the special flavor of spring.🌱 Accordingly, you will notice how additional fresh greens are currently offered in grocery stores, on traditional markets, and in restaurants.

There exists quite a diversity of edible greens native to the Korean peninsula. Among the common ones, you will find:

  • ssuk (쑥) – the young leaves of Korean mugwort (Artemisia princeps) are harvested before the plant develops tough and stringy leaves. Its aroma is so popular that it is frequently added to rice cakes, bakery and beverages (e.g. tea or ssuk latte 쑥라떼) all year round
  • chwi namul (취나물) – various species from the family Asteraceae, e.g. 참취 (Aster scaber), 곰취 (Ligularia fischeri), 미역취 (Solidago japonica)
  • cham namul (참나물) – Pimpinella brachycarpa
    bangpung namul (방풍나물) – edible leaves of a plant which belongs to the same botanical family as carrot, parsnip and parsley
  • sebal namul (세발나물) – the fine thread-like leaves of this plant are edible raw as well as briefly blanched.
  • dol namul (돌나물 石上菜) – Sedum samentosum
  • dureup (두릅) – newly sprouted leaves of the tree Aralia elata, which are edible after cooking and thus softening the shoot’s stings.
  • dallae (달래) – Allium monanthum is a kind of small spring onion
  • sseumbagwi (씀바귀) – roots from a plant scientifically called Ixeridium dentatum. As the name implies, these roots are quite bitter and are reminiscent of dandelion.

Prices for these greens vary by type, but they are generally quite affordable – often decisively cheaper than common vegetables from Western cuisines such as spinach, lettuce or cabbage! Normally you can buy a package (supermarket) or a ‘shovel full of greens’ (traditional market) for something between 1000 KRW and 3000 KRW.

Side dishes made from sebal namul, sseumbagwi and dol namul

If you wonder how these are eaten, recipes for spring greens are innumerable! In general, most of them can be turned into simple vegetable side dishes by blanching them in lightly salted water and then seasoning them according to personal liking. In addition to that, some can be eaten raw in combination with a flavorful dressing – sebal namul and dol namul for instance. Other ideas are to add them to stews, make savory pancakes or use them as a topping in a bowl of mixed rice (Bibimbab 비빔밥).

During the rest of the year, you may encounter some of these greens in dried form as well. However, the texture, flavor and aroma differ decisively from the taste of the fresh plant. So don’t miss out on this opportunity and enjoy this spring treat as long as fresh greens are available over the next few weeks!

Happy experimenting and exploring the various flavors of these local vegetables! 😊

Ambassador of K-food: Kimchi 김치

Outside Korea, kimchi is perhaps the best known dish of Korean food and it is gaining popularity in the Western world surfing the wave of #healthfood.

Various types of kimchi sold in a grocery store.

But did you know that in Korea, kimchi is most of the times not vegan or vegetarian?
Among the many ingredients of kimchi, there is usually something called jeot (젓) / jeotgal (젓갈) – fermented 🐟fish sauce or fermented tiny 🦐shrimp, occasionally other kinds of 🦀seafood. Unless you carefully examine kimchi and manage to identify tiny black dots as the eyes of tiny shrimp, this key ingredient remains hidden most of the time. 👀

Beside the distinct savory flavor (#umami #감칠맛), which many Koreans appreciate in their food, jeotgal adds proteins and minerals to the vegetable dish. While its nutritional value certainly contributes to kimchi being labelled as a super food nowadays, this is certainly not the only reason why kimchi is traditionally served with every meal and appreciated for its positive effect on the health of your digestive system.

There are countless varieties of kimchi, differing not only by the vegetable starring as the main feature of this side dish, e.g. cabbage, cucumber and radish. Basically, kimchi can be produced from all kinds of vegetables by salting, then seasoning and lastly fermenting them. Overall, there are numerous methods, types of kimchi as well as ingredients constituting the sauce. On top of that, each family possesses their own recipe for making kimchi. The diversity of kimchi is accordingly sheer endless.

As a rule of thumb:
Regular kimchi contains jeotgal.
There are only a few classic varieties which it is normally not added to: those of the ‘water kimchi’ type (mul kimchi 물김치), in which the vegetables are literally swimming in the pickling brine, as well as the white version of napa cabbage kimchi (baek kimchi 백김치). However, most frequently served as complimentary side dishes are the napa cabbage kimchi (baechu kimchi 배추김치) or kimchi made from cubes of radish (ggakdugi 깍두기). Occasionally, also these are made without jeotgal, or they may contain it in such small amounts, that a sensitive nose can hardly discern its fishy traces.

Two kinds of fish sauce sold in plastic bottles in a supermarket.

Whenever I asked restaurant staff to confirm whether they put jeotgal into their kimchi, the answer was either yes or they didn’t know. I always wondered whether that’s because they are afraid of giving away their secret recipe or because really nobody except for the old lady working in the kitchen who has produced kimchi for the entire family all her life really knows! 🙃

Anyways. If you want to be 100% sure about what you’re eating, bear in mind that kimchi is most likely not vegan.

Bread is not bread

🥖Bread is the staple food of the Western world. It is the most simple meal. Available anywhere and everywhere. Versatile and diverse. Bread can be sweet, savory, whole, sliced, toasted, sandwiched, baked into puddings, mushed into dumplings (#Semmelknödel), the crispy shell of fried chicken or cutlets, the crumbs of Hansel and Gretel’s trail before they get lost in the woods… (I shall stop here.) Yet, bread can be powerful on its own. Good bread does not need any toppings, no butter, jam or other enhancements. It is flavorful, nourishing and a pleasure to eat on its own, while consisting of only a few ingredients:
Flour, water, salt and the right baking method.

Having grown up in 🇩🇪Germany, where breads such as sourdough bread, whole grain bread, rye bread, have a long tradition, I think I can claim that I know what bread is.

But in 🇰🇷Korea, bread (bbang 빵) is not bread. 🥖=/= 🥖

🍞 Bread is no entire meal.
Bread is a snack.
Although they have eaten bready foods, such as pizza or bread, some Koreans insist that they haven’t had any food (bab 밥) during the entire day unless they have eaten rice (bab 밥).* 🤯

Various types of croissants (e.g. green tea croissant and red velvet) at a Korean bakery.

Korean bakery products often
👀look beautiful,
👃smell irresistible and
👅taste addictive.

But I wouldn’t call them “bread”. Maybe 🍰cake fits better. Or 🥐pastry. Because their bakery goods are almost always sweet.🍩 Even the plain toast, pizza breads and garlic bread contain added sugar. 😵

Don’t get me wrong – I am amazed by contemporary Korean baking! Not just is there cake aka “bread” flavored with curious local ingredients such as 🍵green tea (💚matcha), 🍠sweet potato or 🎃sweet pumpkin. Even the average modern bakery offers cakes and pastries which are skillfully crafted and aesthetically pleasing – regular German cakes and pastries appear rough and unrefined by comparison! 🤩 Modern Korean desserts, overall, are colorful, look extravagant and appear mouth-watering to anyone with a sweet tooth. 🤤

Anyways, my point is: “Korean bread” is not bread, it’s more like dessert.

Beside the sweetness, there is another major difference regarding the ingredients of bread: That is, even the plain toast types of bread contain butter, 🥚egg or other 🥛dairy products. So in case you follow a vegan diet, be aware that in most of the cases, bread or other bakery products at a regular bakery or cafe are not vegan. On top of that, I just recently found out that 🐖lard or shortening is oftentimes added to regular bakery (e.g. toast, cookies), as well… 😱

In bakeries, cafes, convenience stores or food stalls, finding a 🥪sandwich or a 🥗salad that doesn’t contain 🐖ham, 🥚mayonnaise, 🍳egg or 🧀cheese will be difficult! Don’t ask me why one of the basic ingredients in every Korean sandwiches seems to be ham… 😵 Unfortunately, asking for custom-made orders is possible only in rare cases, since most of the products are pre-made. 😔 By the way, even low quality 🧀cheeses available in Korea may contain 🐖pig lard, which means that many sandwiches, salads and even 🍕pizzas cannot be considered to be 100% vegan, vegetarian, kosher or halal…

Last but not least, another huge difference between Korean and Western bread culture is the time of bread. 🕗 If you walk into a Korean bakery in the morning hoping to get freshly baked bread for breakfast, chances are that you do not find it. Instead, there will presumably be leftovers from the previous day at a cheaper price, as well as types of fried dough, such as 🍩donuts and croquettes. I understand that preparing and baking bread takes considerable time and, unlike Western countries, many South Korean bakeries schedule their baked goods to be ready by noon or later in the afternoon. 🕜 Just be aware of this as you plan your day. And if you need bread for breakfast, maybe buying it in advance is an idea. 😉

After all, it seems that regular Western-style food is not what you may be used from your home country. Whatever reasons you may have – religious, health-wise, ethical, etc. – if it is important for you to avoid consuming certain things, then I recommend checking the labels (which hopefully exist) of each product individually.

Alternatively, look out for all vegan bakeries or vegan cafes, of which a few exist in Seoul. I will gradually post and share their location with you as I visit them. In the meantime, check out this Instagram page, where reviews will be uploaded first and at regular intervals.

*) I wonder whether people say this as a joke because of the pun, or whether they actually believe in this “logic”… 😶❓

Alcohol and food

Black beer served with cinnamon on the rim alongside cheese pizza inside a Western-style pub.

In Korea, drinking plays an important social role.🍻 When meeting people in the evening, people often enjoy their food alongside alcoholic drinks. Koreans are respectful if you do not drink alcohol – but it will definitely influence the scope of your social activities. (Actually, people will initially expect you to not be fond of drinking at all, since you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.)

In terms with this, anju (안주) are a characteristic trait of Korean culture. This is a category of foods which are specifically made to accompany alcohol. They range from simple peanuts and fried potatoes to more complex dishes such as savory pancakes, raw fish or all kinds of meat barbecues.

There are also classical combinations of specific types of drinks with certain dishes. For example:

  • you will find 🍴Western-style foods such as 🍗fried chicken, 🍟french fries, 🍕pizza or sausages on the menu of bars that serve 🍺beer (maekju 맥주).
  • Grilled 🥩meat or 🐟fish are often paired with Korean 🍶soju (소주).
  • 🥢Traditional food served with 🥛Korean rice wine (makgeolli 막걸리) are savory pancakes, of which many variations (vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, you name it!) exist. Especially on a rainy day, Koreans express a craving for these pancakes.

What can you eat when going out? Be aware that not every bar or Korean pub (suljip 술집) offers a dish that is vegan, vegetarian, halal or kosher. There are a number of options, however, depending on the kind of location you go to. Here are some ideas:

Cheese platter in a Western-style pub
  • 🍺 Western style pubs aka Hof (호프): 🥜peanuts (땅콩), 🥨salted pretzels, 🍿Korean popcorn or other puffed grains (ppeongtwigi 뻥튀기), 🍟fried potatoes (gamja twigim 감자튀김), 🥗salad (샐러드), 🍕pizza (피자), 🧀cheese (치즈)
  • 🍶 Barbecues for beef or pork: 🥚egg stew (gyeran jjim 계란찜), 🍳rolled omelette (gyeran mari 계란말이; sometimes with 🥓ham or sausage), 🍜 mixed buckwheat noodles (bibim naengmyeon 비빔냉면; often served with 🥚egg and 🐄beef broth; noodles may contain 🐚 sea shell powder)
  • 🥛 Korean pubs with traditional food: 🥔potato pancake (gamja jeon 감자전), acorn jelly salad (dotori muk muchim 도토리묵 무침), leek 🥞pancake (pa jeon 파전), garlic chive 🥞pancake (buchu jeon 부추전), mung bean 🥞pancake (bindaeddeok 빈대떡 / nokdujeon 녹두전 绿豆煎), tofu with kimchi (dubu kimchi 두부김치 – kimchi normally contains 🐟fish sauce)
Outdoor food stall with various savory pancakes (buchimgae 부침개 / jeon 전).

Be aware that recipes vary by family and each place will have their own version of the respective dish. You might want to confirm prior to ordering, whether any 🥩meat, 🐟fish or 🐚seafood goes into your serving.

Additionally, especially in the case of eating from an outdoor food stall, dishes may be prepared on the same grill. Just thought I’d mention this in case of allergies or personal preferences. After all, it is up to you to decide whether you eat under these conditions or not. Anyways, hope you enjoy your night out! Cheers! 🍾😊

Vegetarian option no. 1: Bibimbap 비빔밥

The dish that is perhaps the most easily found option for vegans, vegetarians or people following a halal or kosher diet is….

🍚🍄🥕🍳🥒🍆
Bibimbap 비빔밥 – literally “mixed rice”


Hot Stone Bowl Bibimbap (Dolsot Bibimbap 돌솥비빔밥) with mushrooms, rice on the side, soy sauce and side dishes.

Bap” 밥 meaning rice is one of the staple foods of Korean cuisine, so many dishes contain rice and also carry the word “bap” in their name. 
Beside 🍚rice, the dish consists of a number of varying toppings (mostly seasoned 🥕vegetables, 🍄mushrooms and 🍳egg) plus a sauce. There are innumerable versions of Bibimbap! I will soon introduce common versions with classical combinations of vegetables as well as post innovative creations from modern restaurants here.

Bibimbap with fresh vegetables (saengyachae Bibimbab 생야채비빔밥) including avocado.

Normally, the cheaper versions do not contain meat or fish produce at all. Otherwise, you can ask the waiter or cook to omit the respective topping when preparing your serving. You can do so by saying something like this:
🥩 “Gogi bbae juseyo.” “고기 빼 주세요” – Without meat please. 🍖
🐟 “Saengseon ina haemul bbae juseyo.” “생선이나 해물 빼 주세요” – Without fish or seafood please. 🦐
🥚 “Gyeran bbae juseyo.” 계란 빼 주세요” – Without the egg please. 🍳

Two types of Bibimbap served with complimentary side dishes and soup.
Sauce is added to personal preference.

Another key ingredient of Bibimbap is the sauce. The classical sauce is Korean fermented Chili sauce (gochujang 고추장), which in some cases has been upgraded with pieces of beef (this is mostly the case in more expensive restaurants). At other times, you have a selection of different sauces to choose from. Beside chili sauce, I’ve encountered versions of Bibimbap which have been served alongside seasoned soy sauce (양념 간장), a mustard sauce (겨자소스) or even a sauce made from sesame seeds.

How to eat:
In the large serving bowl, evenly mix the rice, toppings and sauce, which you add according to your personal taste. Ideally, chopsticks are used to stir everything, so that the rice grains are not mushed into a paste – but this takes more effort than simply using a spoon! 😆 The mixed rice is then eaten with a spoon.

Where to find:
Simple versions of Bibimbap can be found in even the smallest, most basic restaurants of Korea, the so-called bunsikjeom 분식점. There are restaurants, which specialize in Bibimbap and thus offer a range of different versions. In general, there exists at least one Bibimbap option in most restaurants serving Korean food.

Let’s start exploring…

Food painting #001. Material: Tofu, chili paste, brown rice, kimchi, Chinese yam, seaweed, sesame seeds.

FOOD.
Food is big in Korea.
Food looks beautiful in Korea.
Foodies will love eating in Korea.

But it can be difficult to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet in Korea.

After years of living in Korea, I’ve decided to share some of my experience, hoping it will provide an orientation for people in a similar situation. The world of food is complex, it is exciting, full of new impressions, scents, visuals, textures and flavors. However, it can be confusing and frustrating, if you cannot read the labels or do not speak enough Korean to communicate your dietary preferences.

Although South Korean society seems to be changing rapidly in various areas, people with certain dietary lifestyles (such as veganism, vegetarianism, raw food, pescetarianism, halal, kosher etc.) are still rare.

Thus, let me offer you some ideas. With the upcoming posts, I aim to introduce you to the basics of Korean food, make practical suggestions for a satisfying food hunt and introduce you to veggie-friendly locations for dining out.

My posts will be launched on Instagram first, where they are primarily pictures! (Because… who doesn’t like #foodporn? 😆) However, you will find longer descriptions and more details about the respective topic in this blog.

Helpful words

  • chaesik ju-eui-ja 채식주의자 – vegetarian 🥕
  • wanjeon chaesik ju-eui-ja / bigeon 완전채식주위가 / 비건 – vegan 🥕🥦
  • gogi 고기 – meat🥩
  • saengseon 생선 生鮮 – fish🐟
  • haesanmul 해산물 海産物 – seafood🦐
  • yujepum 유제품 – dairy🥛🧀
  • gyeran 계란 – egg🥚🍳
  • ggul 꿀 – honey🐝🍯

Simple phrases

  • Chaesik ju-eui-ja yeyo. 채식주의자예요. I am a vegetarian. 🥕
  • Chaesik haeyo. 채식해요. I eat vegetarian food. 🥕
  • Jeoneun gogi, saengseon ina haesanmul mot meogeoyo. 저는 고기, 생선이나 해산물 못먹어요. I cannot eat meat, fish or seafood. 🚫🥩🐟🦐
  • Jeoneun yujepum, gyeran ina ggul mot meogeoyo. 저는 유제품, 계란이나 꿀 못먹어요. I cannot eat dairy, egg or honey. 🚫🥛🧀🥚🍳🐝🍯

and… very important for Korean food culture:

  • Jal meok-gessimnida! 잘 먹겠습니다. I will eat well. (said BEFORE the beginning of the meal. Similar to the French “Bon appetit” or German “Guten Appetit”.)
  • Jal meo-geossimnida! 잘 먹었습니다. I have eaten well. (said AFTER the meal.)

And after all, I’d like to end this post with the following statement:

Please, enjoy your food! 😊❤
Masikke deuseyo~ 맛있게 드세요 ~