The best Vegan Restaurants in Seoul.
South Korea may be famous for its fried chicken and barbecue meat, but it offers a surprisingly impressive selection of vegan restaurants for the meat-free traveller.
Most people who have been to South Korea will warn you about the lack of vegetarian options in meat-saturated Korean cuisine.
A stroll down any street in Seoul will leave most travellers spoilt for choice as there are countless restaurants (some still serving customers with late-night cravings as early – or late – as 5am), which offer a variety of local culinary delights. Grilled ribs and bulgogi beef; beef bibimbap served with kimchi and anchovy soup; spicy octopus and grilled fish; fried chicken complemented with a bottle of beer…
But for vegetarians and vegans, finding good restaurants in Seoul that cater to a meat-free palette is a challenge in itself. After all, Huffington Post did name Korea as one of the worst countries to visit as a vegan.
As a pescatarian who spent a month in Korea, I know how hard it can be since going meat-free is a foreign concept to most Koreans. However, as most Korean cuisine is either meat or seafood-based, there were certainly more options for me than there would be for the average vegetarian or vegan.
Rest assured, though. In 2012, there were 150 vegan restaurants in Korea, and that number is rising as health and eco-conscious Koreans are beginning to take interest in meat-free diets.
Here are 5 vegan restaurants in Seoul that cannot be missed (one even has a Michelin star):
Balwoo Gongyang (with one Michelin star)
As one of the dominant religions in Korea, Buddhism has had a significant role to play in Korea’s vegetarian and vegan dining scene, which includes some amazing Korean temple food restaurants.
Seoul’s Balwoo Gongyang is one such temple food restaurant that offers a unique fine dining experience that embodies the Buddhist ideal of healthy and clean eating through simplicity and mindfulness.
The Michelin 1-star restaurant is located near Insadong, the traditional arts and culture district of Seoul. For dinner, diners can choose between three seasonal tasting menus that vary in price and preparation. They are themed “vow”, “mind” and “joy”, three concepts that tie into key Buddhist teachings.
I tried the vow tasting menu ($55.9 AUD) in winter, which included seven courses that were each beautifully presented in a seemingly endless array of vegan delicacies crafted from local and organic produce. Service was attentive and our server meticulously explained the ingredients and the recommended way to consume each dish. My favourite part was how each dish, though simple, was full of intricate flavours and included exquisite ingredients like white wood ear mushroom, radish water kimchi, lotus root and goji berry.
An unforgettable vegan dining experience.
Balwoo Gongyang, 71 Gyeongji-dong (56 Ujeongguk-ro), Jongno-gu, 5F, Seoul, South Korea
PLANT Café & Kitchen
For those who are ‘in the know’, PLANT is the place to be. The 100% plant-based eatery is a 3-minute walk from Itaewon Station, a busy hub for foreigners and locals alike, and it is a cosy haven decorated with overhead industrial lights, indoor plants and cute cushions.
Its menu offerings are just as cosy and comforting as its warm interiors; PLANT is famous for its wholesome and healthy dishes like its delicious and gluten-free Lentil Veggie Burrito Bowl ($14.9 AUD) and classic Avocado Burger ($16.8 AUD).
I went in winter with my omnivore friends, who admitted the plant-based burgers were delicious. It was a warm sanctuary from the snow with friendly and upbeat service – the perfect place for a casual lunch or dinner over a steaming hot drink.
PLANT Café & Kitchen, 117 Bogwang-ro, Itaewon 1(il)-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
The hottest new burger joint in town is located near Itaewon Station. Huggers is where hungry travellers can treat themselves with organic, plant-based delights, including desserts.
Despite its minimalistic shopfront and interiors, its burgers and desserts are anything but. Its soy-based Chicken Burger ($13.7 AUD) is bursting with Cajun and sweet chilli flavours and its Bulgogi Burger ($13.7 AUD) is a unique rendition of Korea’s staple meat dish using soy-based beef. A casual scroll through Huggers’ Instagram will present a visual feast of vegan and gluten-free desserts like raw blueberry cheesecakes and peanut butter and jelly cupcakes, which can be an oddity in Seoul.
The best part is that vegan burger lovers and sweet tooths can indulge knowing that Huggers donates 10% of its profits and all tips to CARE, a Korean animal rights organisation.
Huggers, 8 Yongsandong 4(sa)-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Think Middle Eastern charm with great views in the heart of Seoul.
If you’re looking for something new, try Petra Restaurant in Itaewon, which is Halal-certified and celebrated for its authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. Petra sits atop a hill overlooking the city and it is beautifully decorated with traditional lamps and golden interiors.
Although not an exclusively vegan restaurant, Petra offers some delicious vegetarian and vegan-friendly options. Its tabbouleh salad, falafel and hummus are a classic must-try.
Petra Restaurant, 33 Noksapyeong-daero 40-gil, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Another gem of Korean temple food cuisine, Sanchon was founded in 1980 by Jungsan Kimyunsik, a monk and expert of the cuisine, and takes its diners on a sensory and cultural journey. Like many others of its kind, this temple food restaurant is based near Insadong and offers gorgeous lunch ($41 AUD) and dinner ($55.9 AUD) set menus.
Diners can enjoy 20 small vegan plates made from seasonal and high-quality ingredients, whilst relishing in a traditional arts performance in the zen and beautifully decorated dining area.
Sanchon, 30-13 Gwanhun 14, Insa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea