When it comes to vegan food, there’s plenty to explore in South Korea, with an array of plant-based foods and snacks or dishes that can be easily made vegan if you know what to look for. We’ve picked out a few of the best below, and if you like the sound of these, check out Feast Box’s vegan Korean box, which contains everything you need to make a meat-free vegan feast that everyone will want to dive into, from gochujang-laced cauliflower wings to spicy crispy tofu. For a limited time only, the Korea Tourism Organization are giving away 200 boxes – click here for a chance to win one of them.
Vegan Korean foods to try
This dish of preserved vegetables is the national dish of Korea, and rightly so. Traditionally eaten alongside most meals, it’s deliciously sour, spicy and tangy, and packed full of gut-friendly bacteria. Kimchi usually contains fish sauce or shrimp paste, but it’s very easy to find or make a vegan version. Use it to make the kimchi fried rice in your box or try making your own. Cabbage is classically used to make kimchi, but you can also use almost any type of veg, such as cucumber. Try our recipe for homemade kimchi.
South Korea has some 2,400 kilometres of coastline and 3,000 islands, with a wealth of beautiful, diverse landscapes, from idyllic white-sand beaches and rugged volcanic cliffs, to secluded fishing villages. Seaweed farms are another common sight on the coast – if you go to any market you’ll find many varieties sold, including kelp, laver and sea mustard. Prized for its nutritional value, it occupies a special place in Korean culture and cuisine, often eaten on birthdays or given to new mothers after birth in the form of a soup to aid in recovery. You’ll find it in many dishes, sprinkled over bibimbap or even fried tempura-style, but it’s the star of the show in foods such as miyeok-guk (the seaweed soup commonly eaten on birthdays) and kimbap, a seaweed rice roll filled with anything from vegetables to fish and meat.
Korean temple food
Any feature on vegan Korean food would be remiss if it didn’t mention temple cuisine. First created by Buddhist nuns and monks hundreds of years ago and centred around veganism, healthy eating, zero waste and sustainability, Korean temple food is plant-based, nourishing and refreshingly simple, and the seasonal, wholesome dishes are made using locally sourced ingredients. South Korea has more than 900 traditional Buddhist temples, several of which you can stay at if you’d like to experience temple cuisine first-hand. If you can’t, watch Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan’s introduction to the intricacies of temple food in Netflix’s Chef’s Table.
Japchae is a popular Korean noodle dish traditionally made with stir-fried veg and sweet potato starch ‘glass’ noodles, with sweet-and-savoury flavours and a moreish, chewy, bouncy texture from the noodles. It’s a crowd-pleasing dish that everyone will love, and you’ll find all the ingredients to make it in the delicious Feast Box.
Made from soy bean curd, tofu is a must for any vegan. Nutritious and high in protein, its creamy texture and subtle flavour makes it a brilliant foil for bold, spicy flavours. Tofu is a staple ingredient in many Asian countries including South Korea, where it’s used in stews, braises and stir-fries. Try dishes such as dubu jorim – tofu braised in a spicy sauce that’s popularly served as a side dish – or sundubu jjigae, a spicy stew made with soft, silken tofu. Try our favourite tofu recipes here.
When it comes to vegan food, finding ingredients that deliver masses of bold, umami flavours is a must. Gochujang, a spicy Korean pepper paste made from red chillies, sticky rice, fermented soya beans and salt, adds both heat and a deeply savoury flavour. It’s the hero ingredient in your box’s recipe for spicy cauliflower wings.
Pajeon, or savoury pancakes, are another staple in Korean cuisine. The batter can be made with or without eggs, so they make a hearty and versatile dish for vegans as they can be made with a variety of fillings. Spring onions typically feature, but you can use up whatever left-over veg you have in the fridge. Serve with a salty or spicy dipping sauce. They make an easy, healthy lunch or side dish for dinner.
This comforting Korean classic is the ultimate one-dish wonder. It’s traditionally a combination of rice and individually prepared vegetables and meats alongside a fried or raw egg that’s then mixed up at the table in a sizzling hot stone bowl. In Korean, bibim means ‘mixing’ and ‘bap’ means rice – the best part is the layer of crispy rice at the bottom of the dish! It’s eaten with gochujang to add a spicy kick.
As it’s such an adaptable dish, bibimbap can easily be made vegan. Simply omit the egg and meat and add some pan-fried tofu, mushrooms and whatever other veg you like – we also suggest a spoonful of kimchi. Make sure you use a short-grain rice for that extra-authentic touch.
There are many types of mandu, or dumplings, in Korean cooking. Vegan versions include ones filled with vegetables – cabbage, spring onions, mushrooms, bean sprouts and courgette all work – or kimchi, tofu and sweet potato noodles. They can be steamed, deep-fried, pan-fried or boiled. If you’re making these at home, try buying ready-made dumpling wrappers at your local Asian or Chinese supermarket. Make a big batch and freeze half so you’ll always have dumplings ready to eat when cravings strike.
Banchan is the collective name for the many small side dishes typically served alongside rice and larger dishes. They’re an essential part of any Korean meal, designed to be shared with other diners at the table. There’s an endless variation of banchan to explore with many vegan-friendly options, from radish kimchis to soy-glazed potatoes and sukju namul, a fresh, crunchy salad of blanched and lightly seasoned mung bean sprouts.
Tteok, or Korean rice cakes, are a beloved delicacy – like kimchi, they come in many forms. They can be made with a variety of grains (typically rice or non-glutinous rice flour) and can be steamed, pounded or fermented. Other ingredients, toppings and colourings can also be added. They’re eaten as a sweet treat, especially on anniversaries and celebrations.
Chuseok is one of Korea’s main major holidays, traditionally held to celebrate a successful rice harvest. Taking place over three days, it’s a time for people to return home to visit family and pay tribute to their ancestors. One delicacy commonly enjoyed during this time is songpyeon: half-moon-shaped rice cakes stuffed with sweet fillings such as chestnut bean paste and dates. Traditional songpyeon are steamed over a bed of pine needles that impart a fragrant aroma and taste.
Love the sound of vegan Korean food? Click here for a chance to win one of 200 vegan food boxes and indulge in your own authentic Korean feast – on offer for a limited time only so ensure that you sign up today!
Want to explore this diverse cuisine for yourself? To find out more about Korea, take a virtual trip, or book a real one visit english.visitkorea.or.kr.