I've been a vegetarian for quite a while...nearly 5 years now. While I do have off days where miraculously, chicken ends up on my plate or I just happen to swallow the odd shrimp, on the whole, I'm a no-meat-no-fish person for 95% of the year.
In this time, to the amazement of those around me, my waistline and I have survived and returned perfectly intact from four trips to Korea.
Whenever I tell people either in Korea or Korean people outside of Korea that I have lived in Korea for months at a time as a vegetarian, their mouths practically hit the floor.
"What do you eat?" they ask. "How do you live?" they cry.
Actually, it's pretty easy. So, for any vegetarians on their way to Korea, here are my five favourite dishes - it's a helping hand to get you started!
1. 비빔냉면 / 비빔국수
(bi-bim-naeng-myeon / bi-bim-guk-su)
Spicy Rating : 3.5-4 / 5 (depends on where you go!)
Spicy Rating : 0 / 5
This dish is quite a bland one but is fantastic for really hot days when you don't have much of an appetite or if your stomach needs a little respite from all the strong Korean flavors. The soup is made from soybeans so this dish is also incredibly nutritious so don't forget to drink it all- it tastes best if you add a little salt!
Spicy Rating : Up to you / 5
The traditional food of Korea. If it's your first trip to Korea, you will probably find this dish frequently placed in front of you. A favourite with Koreans and foreigners alike, 비빔밥 offers something for everyone. It's completely flexible ingredient combination means there is something for everyone. The spiciness of this dish depends on how much 고추장 (go-chu-jang, spicy red chili paste) you choose to add. Don't forget to mix it really well - the more you mix it, the better it is!
Spicy Rating : 3.5 / 5
This is one of my favourite warm-up-the-soul dishes! Served in a boiling hot stone bowl (don't touch it!), 된장찌개 offers a nutritious alternative to some of the meatier stews. Most vegetarian options use a seaweed / vegetable base for the broth before adding lots of vegetables, tofu and of course, 된장 (soy bean paste). This is sometimes made with a beef base (especially in cheaper restaurants) so if you are particular, be sure to ask.
5. 김치전 / 파전
(Kim-chi-jeon / pa-jeon)
Spicy Rating : 3 / 5
Ok...so I know a lot of people don't classify this as a meal but more as 안주 (An-ju - snacks that accompany alcohol) but I love 전 (Korean pancake) so I had to include it here. It is pretty hard to find in restaurants as it is considered more of a snack but you can find it in nearly every bar. When I'm home, tired and about to curl up in front of my laptop to watch a Korean drama, this is my go-to food!
So, some language tips...
1. I'm vegetarian.
2. I don't eat meat and fish.
Na-neun ko-gi ha-go saeng-sun an mog-eo-yo.
나는 고기하고 생선 안 먹어요.
3. Is there meat? Is there fish?
Ko-gi iss-eo-yo? saeng-sun iss-eo-yo?
고기 있어요? 생선 있어요?
4. I'm sorry but I can't eat it.
chae-song-ha-ji-man na-neun ee-geo mok-do an dwae-yo.
죄송하지만 나는 이거 먹도 안돼요.
Any questions, let me know!
Any questions, let me know!