Travelling anywhere as a vegan can be a certified nightmare if you don’t know where to eat, especially in South Korea’s meat-loving capital, Seoul, where guide books are saturated with barbecue and fried chicken restaurants. But in recent years, things have been changing rapidly, particularly in regard to veganism. Seoul’s vegan restaurants are offering their own tastes to the global market.
In a country that has gained culinary prominence from its barbecue restaurants and fried chicken joints, veganism is surprisingly not a new prospect in Seoul. The first vegan concepts in South Korea came from traditional Buddhist values.
Nowadays, it’s not just the religious that are getting involved in the vegan movement. With the number of households owning pets on a rise, a new respect for animal life is evolving in Korea, and veganism is fast gaining a following in Seoul.
Aside from traditional Buddhist restaurants, Plant is arguably one of the first prominent vegan restaurants in Seoul, and this experience really comes across in the food. Now a popular dinner joint located in the multicultural streets of Itaweon, long-serving Seoulites will remember Plant’s humble beginnings as a small café-cum-bakery with a constant queue outside. The bakery still exists in Itaewon, serving a variety of delicious vegan cakes and breads.
The Plant restaurant: 2/F 117 Bogwang-ro, Yongsan-gu
Bakery: 63-15 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu
Managed by animal activist AJ Garcia, Huggers is a restaurant specialising in vegan burgers. With the cosy interior and their resident feline companion, Nabi, eating at Huggers will make you feel warm inside, even when you’re paying the cheque, as 10% of their proceeds will go to animal charity CARE. The team at Huggers are pretty busy finding other ways to save the world at their 9-5s during the week, so catch them at the restaurant opening hours on weekends and holidays only.
29 Daesagwan-ro 6-gil, Yongsan-gu
Monk’s Butcher is a statement vegan restaurant with distinctive dishes to match. A modern, monochrome interior with art-deco styled features gives the restaurant a sophisticated, cosmopolitan feel. The dishes are presented with great care and attention to the finer details. Carrying a combination of great food, a statement window to watch the world go by and a modern bar, Monk’s Butcher makes for a sophisticated and cruelty-free late night in the city.
Raw Vega is an organic vegan restaurant in Seoul with the charm of a family kitchen. The restaurant feels a little like an easy-dining café, with lots of colourful food and the plating to match. Dishes unique to Raw Vega include their Raw Asian wraps, a twist on burritos that are wrapped in layers of seaweed rather than bread, and the Raw Vegan Burger, which looks more like abstract art than lunch. Their menu also has small cakes and coffee for those looking to take a quick break from shopping in the neighbouring streets of Hongdae.
Created in traditionally oriental-styled wooden architecture, Maji feels like stepping into a Buddhist temple hiding on a high mountain top without even leaving the city streets. Maji is the place to go to sample staple Korean food, vegan style: from Korean japchae to jeon and kimchi to mandu, Maji offers a selection of healthy Korean set-menus alongside rice steamed and wrapped in a lotus leaf, meaning no vegan has to miss out on the refined flavours of Korea.
59 Donggwang-ro, Seocho-gu
A rustic style kitchen-café offering vegan takes on dishes from around the world, Vegetus joined Seoul’s growing vegan scene with gusto. The intricacy of the dishes, down to the hand-arranged vegetables and hand-cut potato wedges, feels like eating a meal made by a friend. The outdoor area and cosy seating arrangements make Vegetus a great spot for an intimate evening with friends.
59 Sinheung-ro, Yongsan-gu
Nammi Plant Lab
Nammi Plant Lab is a vegan restaurant and bakery in Seocho-gu, a typically quieter area of Seoul on the border of Gangnam, and that calmer atmosphere can be felt here. Dishes provide classic comfort food from East to West. Choose from thin crust pizzas and mac and cheese, or more Asian flavoured soups and rice dishes.
2F, 455-20 Bangbae-dong, Seocho-gu
Tucked away in the streets of Seoul’s French Village, Seolbom is a vegan bakery selling traditional Korean rice cakes, pastries, cookies, coffees and a variety of cold refreshments. Its clean-cut décor makes Seolbom a great vegan pit stop for refuelling with snacks and smoothies, and for picking up some small Korean treats to take home.
1F, 769-15 Bangbae-dong, Seocho-gu
Located in the cultural hub of Insadong, Sanchon upholds the neighbourhood theme of displaying the finest aspects of Korea’s history. Sanchon’s culinary focus centres on the Korean side-dishes, ‘banchan’, and the restaurant has gained recognition for its huge platters of vegetables displayed in a traditional style. This large number of dishes is designed to be shared with others. To make the most of what Sanchon has to offer, visit with as many people as possible to maximise the number of different plates ordered.
30-13 Insadong-gil, Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu
What good culinary guide doesn’t finish up with dessert? Mellieno serves dairy-free ice cream and gelatos in perfectly whipped up scoops. And if you fancy bringing your furry friend along, they even have special dessert bowls and ice pops made just for dogs, too. The neon signs and kitsch decorations have made the café popular for a summertime stop, and for getting a good picture for your Instagram feed.
6 Noksapyeongdaero-54-gil, Yongsan-gu