The thing that I was most worried about when I was planning my trip to Korea was the food. I was told that being vegan in Korea can be a real challenge, especially if you don't speak the language, but what if you're vegan and allergic to peppers? And yep, that means chilli! It hasn't been plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination but I was excited to discover some Korean eats in Seoul that aren't spicy and I'm going to share them with you today alongside some tips for where to eat that'll satisfy the spice fiend within. One of the first traditional spots Nick and I ventured to was Oh Se Gae Hyang which is located down a cute alleyway in Seoul's bustling and super touristy AnGuk district.
After spotting that this place is a secret Loving Hut I immediately honed in on the sesame soup as the most promising non spicy option.
Nick chose some kinda spicy stew and we also ordered some dumplings to share because why would you not?! Everything we were served was delicious, so good in fact that we returned on two more occasions and both ordered the same things again. My soup was thick and creamy and filled with noodles that we saw being made at an empty table during one of the restaurants quieter moments. I only had to ask for the chillis that decorated my soup to be removed which made things nice and easy. The dumplings were your classic soy meat and veg filled deep fried fare but they weren't greasy, just crisp and boiling hot inside. Never forget to make a lil' air hole with your chopsticks!
One of my other top choices for an authentic Korean dining experience in Seoul is Babione which is located by the Express Bus Terminal. This is definitely a little way off of the tourist trail, unless you're vegan of course. This 100% vegan establishment is definitely a local spot and has a menu with around 10 items to choose from. I went for the soy bean stew and it was totally Jojo allergy approved aside from the kimchi that came on the side.
It came to the table in a hot clay bowl brimming with mushrooms and greens and was served with pickled veggies and rice. We actually had one of our most amusing dining experiences here; after waiting for my stew to stop bubbling and steaming up my camera lens I dug in and was happily taking a spoonful of rice, adding a little stew, using chopsticks to grab a few mushrooms, and then rotating my way through the non chilli-full side dishes. I was almost done with my meal when the same meal was popped down in front of the woman seated next to me and she immediately threw the rice and sides into the steaming pot and began eating! She caught my eye and we had a little giggle as I tried to eat the dish the correct way with the little food I had left.
My third recommendation for vegans travelling to Seoul is temple food restaurant Maji which has to be one of my favourite places to eat in the whole country. As soon as I explained my allergies to the owner she immediately sympathised and told me that a while ago she met a monk who was travelling in Korea who had the exact same problem! I've never met anyone else with an allergy to peppers and honestly, I was beginning to think that I was the only one. It was so cool to meet someone at a restaurant who genuinely understood. So often people working in restaurants either think that this is my cunning way of avoiding spicy food and just give me something not-so-spicy but full of bell peppers, or they forget to check with the kitchen and I end up eating paprika seasoned tofu scramble three days in a row resulting in awful stomach cramps and joint pain. Thankfully in Korea it was usually quite obvious when someone had misunderstood or decided to ignore my very clear allergy card because things with chilli really have chilli.
After chatting with the owner about my possible options I ordered the soy bean bibimbap and Nick and I ordered the pumpkin pancakes to share.
I loved how beautifully presented this was, such gorgeous bright veggies, but more importantly they were fresh, crisp, and delicious. I'm such a huge pickled vegetable lover nowadays. The soy bean sauce came on the side which meant that I could add it as needed which was good as it was super strong and a little really did go a long way. The pumpkin pancakes were a surprise as they were really slices of sweet, tender, battered, and deep fried pumpkin. I really thought I'd scored here because Nick's not the biggest pumpkin fan but it turns out that if it's deep fried he does like it so we still had to share! I'm actually pretty happy about this new discovery, back at home I hardly ever cooked with pumpkin but now I'm going to be sneaking it into stuff left right and centre to see how else he likes it - I can always make a sacrifice and eat anything he doesn't enjoy!
I'm so happy that I've been able to partake in some Korean food whilst I've been travelling here. Food is such an essential part of a country's culture and missing out, or having to survive on streamed rice and the occasional pickle, would have sucked some of the fun out of the journey.
Are you a Korean food fan? What's your favourite dish? I think Bibimbap is mine which is lucky as I'll be visiting Brighton soon where I can reminisce about this section of my travels whilst eating the mushroom special from Namul's!