Mar 4, 2012

      After being a vegetarian in Korea for 2 years, there are some 
things I've noticed. Basically, Koreans don't really seem to understand 
vegetarianism, or can't usually comprehend exactly what that means 
and think vegetarians just can't eat anything. So I've decided to make a 
list of foods that are vegetarian, can easily be made vegetarian, 
or can easily have meat removed.
      WARNING: soups/broth are animal based 99% of the time and Koreans
really like to sneak in little bits of ground up animals into almost 
      ALSO, ham and odeng (fishcakes) are not really considered meat 

I've also made note of whether or not things are spicy, or have  
고추 gochujang/red pepper paste. But generally, along with bits 
of meat, Koreans, more often then not, also like to generously 
add in spicy red pepper flakes or paste. 
It varies restaurant by restaurant.

It's easy to ask for things without meat, and sometimes without 
But Koreans don't always understand why you wouldn't want meat...
Easy way to ask: ______ 없이/oep shi (without.) 
Example: 고기 없이 = without meat. 
비빔밥 bibimbap - mixed vegetables, fried egg on top
 comes with meat - occasionally, but often without at the fast 
                   food places.
 spicy - yes, comes with gochujang.

돌솥비빔밥 - dolsot bibimbap - bibimbap served in a burning hot bowl 
                             with a raw egg on top, as you mix it, 
                             the egg cooks.
        spicy - yes, comes with gochujang.
        comes with meat - occasionally, but often without at the 
                          fast food places.
보리밥 - boribap - rice and barley mixed with vegetables. Usually the rice 
                  comes separate and you add what you want from the 
        spicy - gochujang is on the side, so you don't have to add it.
        comes with meat - usually no 
볶음밥 - fried rice, I've only gotten this a couple of times, so I'm
        not sure how much it varies. 
        spicy - no, unless it has kimchi
        comes with meat - yes, usually bits of ham or something 
                          like that.  
오므라이스 - omurice - omelete served over rice
        spicy - no
        comes with meat - yes, bits of meat are usually in the rice, 
                          sometimes served with gravy. 
김밥 - kimbap - like sushi, seaweed, rice, filling.
      comes with meat - yes, usually ham, egg and odeng.
      spicy - no. 
유부초밥 - tofu pockets (tents) filled with rice
       comes with meat - sometimes there's a little bit of seafood 
                         mixed in the rice, but usually no.
       spicy - no.

칼국수 - kalguksu - hot cut noodle soup, comes in anchovy broth
       comes with meat - sometimes seafood 해물.
       spicy - no. 
비빔국수 - bibimguksu - cold noodles served with gochujang (red pepper 
                      paste), vegetables and half a boiled egg
       comes with meat - no, unless it's at a fancy/expensive place.
       spicy - yes.

공국수 - kong guksu - cold noodles in soymilk with cucumbers
       comes with meat - no.
       spicy - no. 

잔치국수 - janchi guksu - hot noodles with vegetables on top
       meat - not usually.
       spicy - no. 
 막국수 - makguksu - cold buckwheat noodles in broth with 
                       gochujang, vegetables and half a boiled egg. 
        meat - sometimes sliced on top. 
        spicy - yes. 
열무국수 - yeolmuguksu - yeolmu is young radish. Cold noodles with young radish 
                         kimchi and half a boiled egg on top, tastes a bit sour. 
        meat - sometimes sliced on top, not usually.  
        spicy - yes. 

수제비 - sujaebi - hand torn noodle soup, sometimes with seafood, yeolmuguksu
                  and can be spicy. Sometimes it's combined with
       meat - sometimes.
       spicy - sometimes. 
비빔냉면 - bibim naengmyun - cold chewy buckwheat noodles with gochujang 
                            and half of a boiled egg. 
       meat - no, not usually.
       spicy - yes. 

물냉면 - mul naengmyun - cold chewy noodles in some kind of (usually)animal broth
       meat - usually no.
       spicy - no. 
쫄면 - jjolmyun - similar to bibimguksu, slightly different noodles. Cold noodles
                 with hot pepper paste, vegetables and usually half a boiled egg.
          meat - usually no. 
          spicy - yes.
자장면 - jajangmyun - noodles in black soybean sauce with onions, potatoes, 
                     meat and cucumbers.
       meat - cut up cubes of meat. 
       spicy - no.
잡채 - japchae - sweet potato/glass noodles with vegetables 
       meat - sometimes cut up bits.
       spicy - no. 
라면 - ramyun - instant noodles. There are a lot of different brands.
               There is one brand that states "no meat" on it in English. 
       meat - depends on type.
       spicy - depends on type.
된장찌개 - dwaenjang jjigae - fermented soybean soup.
        meat - often some seafood, sometimes pork.
        spicy - yes.
청국장 - chung gook jang - fermented soybean soup. Intense version of dwaenjang.
      meat - not usually.
      spicy - sometimes a little spice is added.
순두부 - soondubu - spicy soft tofu soup. Usually has some kind of seafood and 
                   comes with an egg in it or on the side. 
공비지찌개 - kongbiji jjigae - ground soybean soup, sometimes has a bit of ground
                             meat added. Not overly spicy usually. 

sides/banchan/반찬 - there are a lot of these, so I'll only add a few.
가지나물 - eggplant (sometimes has red pepper flakes added) 
김치 - kimchi - spicy fermented cabbage, has fish oil
 공나물 - beansprouts (sometimes spicy)
pancakes (전), anju (안주) snacks:
파전 - pajeon - green onion pancake. Sometimes has egg cooked in, sometimes doesn't.
      (other types: 김치(kimchi, spicy), 야채 (vegetable, sometimes has hot peppers), 
       고구마 (sweet potato), 호박 (pumpkin), 감자 (potato)...) 
찐빵 - jjin bbang - sweet red bean filled bun. 
만두 - mandu - dumplings, served fried, steamed. Ok, these pretty much always come
              with meat. But I've found some "웰빙 well being" ones that just have
              peppers and japchae. 
 But make sure you check with the restaurant, I've come across some kimchi mandu that 
didn't have meat, just tofu instead.
두부김치 - tofu kimchi - just a bunch of tofu served with fried kimchi.
                      spicy - yes.
                      meat - rarely, once in my case, with the kimchi. 

porridge juk  (not spicy/no meat): - patjuk - red bean porridge 
 호박 - hobakjuk - pumpkin porridge

desserts (Korea doesn't really do desserts):
마탕 - matang - candied sweet potatoes 
떡 - deok - rice cakes - these come in all different types. Sometimes they're
            just rice, or have beans, seeds, fruit, etc. added. 
 팥빙수 - patbingsu - sweet red beans, fruit, shaved ice
식헤 - shik hae - rice drink
소주 - soju - 20% liquor
막걸리 - makkeolli - rice wine
동동주 - dongdongju - rice wine with floating rice bits


  1. This is a very detailed and informative piece.

    Thank you for sharing, The question of which Korean food can be eaten by vegetarians or vegans has lingered with me for a while. Thank you.

    I wonder how you felt about "Ask the Korea's" rant on eating dog meat. Did you about it on his blog? I'm curious to hear your take.


  2. I've read it and I agree with it on most parts. Eating dogs has been happening in Korea for a long time. As a non Korean, I don't really feel that it's my place to be telling people that they shouldn't eat dog meat, or it's ok to eat other meat, just not dog meat. It seems like the younger generation is distancing themselves from that on their own.

    But how dogs, that are eaten, are treated is incredibly appalling. The standard of treatment for animals in general leaves a lot to be desired. Here and back home. I also found myself feeling a little sketched out once I got to the Michael Vick point and the value of humans vs dogs...

    Then again, I grew up on a farm, and animals have always seemed like sentient beings or potential pets, rather then food.