Being Vegetarian in Seoul
I have been a vegetarian since I was 7 years old. Before you start to ask why, I used to eat chicken up until I was 7 years old, but then I simply stopped enjoying the texture and cut it out of my diet. That wasn’t hard because at home all my meals were vegetarian anyway, and living in California meant there were plenty of vegetarian opportunities. The one meat I will always avoid of any kind is beef (and that is for religious reasons).
Coming to Korea, I already knew that I would have to be lenient with myself because it is going to be hard having such a heavy restriction on my diet. I honestly didn’t realize how far the extent goes. East Asian countries absolutely love their meat, so much so that in the packaging of simple food like mushroom soup ingredients such as beef and pork will be listed.
Back at my home university, we have a pretty large population of international students from Korea, and I had asked them if I would be okay as a vegetarian, and they batted me away saying you would be just fine. Looking back, I wonder if they knew just how many foods had beef, pork, chicken, or other meats listed in the ingredients list.
For people who are vegetarian and are looking to come to Korea, be ready to eat a lot of the same food. Bibimbap (which translates to “mixed rice” is a dish that is a bunch of side dishes, or ban chan, mixed into rice with a spicy paste called gochujang) and naengmyeon (or cold noodles in water/ice) are my best friends. It’s a miracle that I am not sick of them just yet. It is because of how limited my options are, I have begun to slowly (very slowly) start to incorporate chicken and, now, pork into my diet simply to be able to eat many kinds of foods here. However, I will always choose a vegetarian option over a meat option if given the opportunity.
And before you ask, I haven’t tried temple food, which is known to be vegan, yet. It is on my very long list of to-do’s I fear I may not be able to get through.