Being A Vegetarian In Korea

Being a Vegetarian in Korea

If there is one thing I’ve realized about Korean food culture, it’s that they love their meat. When I moved to Korea, I was nervous about finding vegetarian friendly restaurants. But never fear! There are actually a lot of vegetarian and vegan options if you know where to look. Here are some tips for ordering as a vegetarian and some of my go-to restaurants!


Ordering as a Vegetarian

Most Korean restaurants specialize in one dish and it is typically something like raw fish, pork, beef, or meat barbeque. Almost all Korean dishes include some kind of meat or fish, so I had a hard time finding where to eat at first. My coworkers were all meat-eaters and I didn’t want to miss out on group meals just because of my dietary restrictions. I quickly learned that all restaurants will serve rice with the meal as well as some kind of side dishes, which are 90% vegetables. If there’s nothing you can order straight off the menu, just ask the server for a bowl of rice and then use the side dishes and gochujang sauce to create some bibimbap! Another option you should look out for at meat based restaurants is soft tofu soup. Just keep in mind that other soups like kimchi jjigae and doenjang jjigae will tend to have a meat or fish based broth. I keep a list of veggie options in my phone that I can show to a server in a pinch which includes:

Bibimbap 비빔밥 – A rice dish with an assortment of veggies, seaweed, and egg. 

Gimbap 김밥 – Korean “sushi” rolls, traditionally made with veggies.

Kimchi 김치 – fermented, spicy cabbage.

Banchan 반찬 – side dishes often served alongside entrees, especially at BBQ restaurants. 

Vegetable Dumplings 야채만두 – Korean dumplings filled with veggies and tofu.


Vegetarian bibimbap available in South Korea

While getting resourceful at a meat-based restaurant is a great strategy, I also love to eat at restaurants that cater to a vegan and vegetarian diet. Here are some of my all time favorite spots where you don’t need to compromise taste or choice just because of your lifestyle.


Plant Cafe

Plant Cafe is a vegan restaurant that has two locations in Seoul: their namesake restaurant and full size bakery in Itaewon and their newest location in Yeonnamdong. Plant’s menu features delicious items like a mushroom burger, macaroni and cheese, cauliflower wings, and even chili cheese fries. They also have lighter options like veggies and hummus, peanut soba noodles, and smoothies. I recently ordered a birthday cake for my friend’s party and the flavors were unreal. Nobody could believe that the banana salted caramel cake was vegan! Plant Cafe is also a great place to enjoy a soy milk latte, a glass of wine, or my favorite, kombucha!



This might be the best veggie friendly restaurant I’ve been to! Osegyhyang is located in Jongno amidst the winding alleyways. The restaurant is inside a Hanok style building and has a lovely atmosphere where you can sit on the heated floors and enjoy your meal. I love that they offer traditional Korean dishes that are entirely vegan so you don’t have to miss out on enjoying the culture. It is also very easy to order in English which makes the dining experience that much more convenient.


Buddha's Belly

Buddha’s Belly is a Thai restaurant that is vegan and vegetarian friendly. Located in Itaewon, this spot is tucked away on top of a hill which means their patio has an incredible view over the city at night. The servers are very friendly and attentive and provide a comfortable dining experience. Last time I ate here, I ordered the green curry and the Thai fried rice with pineapple, which were both incredible. I went with a non-veggie friend and she was pleased that they served meat options too. Buddha’s Belly is a great place when you’re dining with a big group as they offer all types of options.

While navigating vegetarianism in Korea may seem daunting at first, there are plenty of delicious options to enjoy. I recommend you download the app Happy Cow which will recommend other great vegetarian places to enjoy. As you start living and teaching in Korea, rest assured that you can savor the local cuisine while staying true to your dietary preferences. Bon appétit!

Michelle Duquette is from Toronto, Canada and moved to South Korea in 2015. She has a Bachelors in English literature and a Masters in ESL Education. Michelle has taught at Creverse campuses in Gangneung, Songpa, and Mokdong and currently works as a CDI and April Trainer. Michelle never set out to be a teacher but fell in love with Korean culture and the excitement of being in the classroom. Michelle lives in Seoul with her partner and two cats, Cherry and Frost.