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Monday, November 30, 2020

The Ultimate Guide to vegan food in Seoul

From vegan temple food to street classics, there’s something for everyone in South Korea’s capital. Here’s the Ultimate Guide to off-the-beaten-path vegan food in Seoul.

For vegans, walking into a grocery store in Seoul can be frustrating at times. Most of Seoul’s cuisine is meat-heavy, and many traditional dishes contain dairy and eggs. But times are changing, and plant-based vegan living is on the rise here, making it more accommodating for vegans than ever.

The Western concept of veganism combined with Buddhist temple food offers ample delicious vegan options. Vegan street food, restaurants and cafes are popping all over Seoul, so don’t worry about finding what to munch on while strolling the city.

This guide aims to recommend some of the less-talked-about places that blew us away. There are recommendations on more acclaimed vegan businesses, but the focus is on off-the-beaten-path options. Here we go: the Ultimate Guide to vegan food in Seoul.

Seoul Innovation Park off-grid cafe

684 Tongil-ro, Nokbeon-dong, Eunpyeong-gu

seoul cafe no electricity

Within Seoul’s Innovation Park lies a beautiful, ecologically designed cafe that operates without any electricity. Since there is no refrigerator, the food is vegan and made fresh every day. The menu consists of soups, stews, special herbal teas and, of course, coffee.

The structure is made of bales of hay, which are highly insulating and eliminate the need for electrical heating and cooling. During winter, the cafe is heated with a fireplace, and oil lamps and candles are lit during dusk, which adds to the romantic atmosphere.

The construction of the place is part of a municipality-backed project of a small community called NoPlug, which aims to raise awareness on minimising the use of energy, to protect the environment and lead healthier lifestyles. The cafe provides visitors with an experience that is difficult to access in a city full of high-rise concrete buildings and offers the opportunity to reflect on our daily lives, leisure culture, and consumption habits.

Sigol Bapsang

235 Itaewon-ro, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu

seoul veganWith a rustic atmosphere and a hut-like structure, Sigol Bapsang is an antithesis to its busy and cosmopolitan location in Itaewon. Sigol Bapsang’s menu focuses on traditional Korean side-dishes called ‘banchan’. Typically, banchan are the supporting cast to a Korean meal, but at Sigol Bapsang, they are the entrée.

The meal has a fixed price of 10,000 to 15,000 KRW (£6.5 to £10) per person, and you will be offered a variety of around 20 different banchan, accompanied by rice and a hot stew of fermented soybean paste. It is mostly all-vegan, but make sure to mention your dietary preference.

The restaurant has gained recognition for its traditional style of serving, which corresponds with the low dining tables and the calligraphy and ancient musical instruments that are hung on the walls. The large number of dishes is designed to be shared with others. To make the most of what the place has to offer, visit with as many people as possible to maximise the number of different plates ordered. Sigol Bapsang is open 24 hours daily, which makes it an excellent place for a late-night meal.

Maybell Bakery

229 Itaewon-ro, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu

 

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Arguably the best bread in the whole of South Korea. It is not all-vegan, but most of it is. For those of you who like proper, dense and chewy bread — this is your spot. Every morning, a variety of freshly baked bread is made here: rye, whole wheat, seeded, baguettes, with dried figs, oranges, or olives.

The bread here is sugar- and preservatives-free. Maybell’s bread is renowned all over this city, and for a good reason. Come as early as you can because bread is swooped off the shelves by consumers who have learned the hard way; bread at Maybell usually sells out by early afternoon.

LocoLab

51 Yulgok-ro 4-gil, Susong-dong, Jongno-gu

 

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Located right next to Jogyesa temple, LocoLab is a hidden gem in the busy heart of Seoul. It has two spacious floors, a rooftop and a patio. It is relatively quiet, which makes it a great place to read a good book or finish up work on your laptop.

The structure has an industrial-modern design with bare concrete walls, but the place is packed with plants and has cosy corners with beanbags. It is not all-vegan but keeps all the plant-based milk you can think of. The coconut matcha latte is ridiculously satisfying.

Gwangjang Market

88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno 4(sa)-ga, Jongno-gu

gwangjang market

Gwangjang Market is a must-visit when in Seoul. The hustle and bustle of the market is a fun setting for strolling and trying new food. Out of the many things I got to try at the market, one particular stall stood out as a superb spot to sit (on warm benches) and have a filling, cheap, meal.

Look for stall number A11. The lady serves awesome mandu (Korean dumplings) and bibimbap (rice mixes with veggies and gochujang, a savoury chilli paste). The warm benches and spicy (but not too spicy) dishes make this stall a go-to during Seoul’s harsh winter.

Vegan Space

Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Sinheung-ro 2-gil, 7, Yongsan-gu

 

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Being vegan in Seoul means you will be cooking. A lot. In terms of vegan produce and raw materials, Vegan Space is the strongest player in the neighbourhood.

This tiny-but-packed space fits all bunch of pampering products like frozen berries, spreads, crackers, grains and legumes, pasta, plant-based cheese and yoghurt, and mock meat. The owners are kind and attentive to the various requests of frequent expat vegans customers. Come here for your weekly grocery shopping.

10000LAB X NAMIB

5-72 Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu

 

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If you go up the street from Vegan Space, you will arrive at 10000LAB X NAMIB, a lovely café and art space that specialises in hand drip coffee brewing, and sells all the coffee-related merchandise you might need to make superb coffee.

Its matcha latte and mocha with black chocolate are delicious. This place is not vegan but keeps many plant-based milks, so make sure you request a vegan option. This place also has two floors, and the lower one serves as an exhibition and art space. If you happen to sit here, check out the display and enjoy super delicious lattes.

Vegetus

22-12 Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu

vegetus

If you continue further up the street, you will find Vegetus, an all-vegan Western-style café and diner. The menu offers hamburgers, paninis, pasta, pizza, lasagna, salads, as well as pastries and desserts.

It also has a couple of shelves of imported vegan produce, and it was the only place in Seoul where I was able to find nutritional yeast. Some of the dishes are gluten-free and nut-free.

Banh Mi Lee

south korea vegan
Photo: Banh Mi Lee/Facebook

Right across from Vegetus stands a Vietnamese Banh Mi place called Banh Mi Lee. It serves a fantastic vegan option with tofu, pickles and gravy that makes for the ultimate sandwich to take away. The menu also has vegan spring rolls.

Sanchon

30-13 Insadong-gil, Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu

seoul temple veganSanchon is not quite off-the-beaten-path as it is one of the most famous temple food restaurants in Seoul — and Asia — but it’s included because eating here is a sensational experience.

The food served here is all vegan and made with fresh endemic wild plants, herbs, and vegetables from the mountains and fields. The ingredients used vary from season to season. Still, you will always get to try seven to eight kinds of green mountain herbs, mushrooms, kimchi, tofu, soup, japchae (glass noodles), beans, sweet potatoes and doenjang-jjigae (fermented soybean paste stew).

The cooking here relies on traditional temple-style methods without any artificial additives. Food is healthy, simple, clean, yet very meticulous and different from anything I tasted during my time in South Korea (or anywhere else).

Sanchon is located at the heart of Insadong, one of Seoul’s most touristic spots. But do not let that deter you from entering the beautifully decorated wooden courtyard. Eating here is expensive, at 30,000 to 45,000 KRW (£20 to £29.5) per person, even for a 5-course lunch or dinner, but we still recommend going there once during your visit since the food is top-notch. A unique Korean dance performance happens every night at 8pm, so you get both dinner and performance.

AVEC.EL

41-1 Huam-dong, Yongsan-gu

 

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Located at an unexpected location within a residential area, AVEC.EL cafe is a pleasant surprise that is worth walking Seoul’s steep inclines to get to. The place is beautifully curated and has a minimalist-modern design that invites an intimate one-on-one conversation, dates, and a laidback afternoon with a book or laptop.

It also sells some clothes and vintage items that reflect its taste and serve as décor. AVEC.EL is renowned for its fruit-flavoured coffee, desserts, cakes, jams, toasts, tiramisu, and cookies. It is not all-vegan but has a wide selection of plant-based milk and desserts. Its signature drinks are apple (ringo) latte, rosi aurora, and green tea latte. I went excited (and caffeinated) for the matcha aurora, which combines green tea and a shot of espresso.

Aviv
Aviv Nesher
Aviv Nesher is a current Schwartzman scholar studying her master’s in management science in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing. She works at the intersections of environmental action, trend analysis, and sustainable fashion. Her writing revolves around integrating sustainable practices within different industries and markets, and policy development that generates sustainable impact. Aviv has been vegan for five years and raw vegan for one year. She believes that transitioning into a plant-based diet is one of the most significant steps individuals can take to tackle the eco-climate crisis. Aviv is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a United World College alumna, and a Huayu Scholarship recipient.

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