BUSAN, South Korea – Do you know any vegetarian or vegan Koreans? This country loves meat — as do most of the expats that come here. I have only personally met three or four other foreigners in Busan who announced they were meat-free.
With Korean restaurateurs, friends or coworkers the mere mention of the word ‘vegetarian’ usually garners a nice look of confusion from Koreans. Often, Koreans do not know the word ‘vegetarian,’ so you can just say “gogi-obsoyo” (no meat) or try using the native tongue “chae sheek joo wee im nee da” and wait for the inevitable response heard round the world — “Why are you a vegetarian?”
In my experiences here, I have found that the most understandable and plain spoken answer is that “I do not want to eat meat.” Occasionally, someone with good conversational English and I will have a nice discussion, but for the most part I try to keep it simple. Factory farming, pollution, killing, compassion, the idea of animals as friends, etc… can all be heavy topics to discuss during a lunch hour. Besides, I doubt anyone ever truly wants to know why I passed on the fish. They just think I look funny with my tray of rice, homemade hot sauce, and my plate of lettuce—especially since I am 6’2.
For those of you looking for meatless treats here, I want to share some tips on navigating the mean streets of Dynamic Busan while eating no animals.
Buy a steamer: Unless you are fine with a steady diet of bibimbap and cold bibimguksu, a steamer is a vegetarian’s best friend. It takes up a bit of space, but you can cook up nearly a week’s worth of rice to keep in the fridge. Each day after work enjoy a quick daily stroll through your closest market and the rest of your meals will be ready in a jiffy.
Allow your skin to thicken: Your coworkers are going to find the fact of you not eating meat a lot stranger than anyone else. In fact, they might have a harder time understanding the concept than you do counting to three in Korean. Get used to repeating yourself every time you go out with coworkers. If you work at a public school, it will happen every time there is a ‘very healthy’ soup served at lunch. Coincidently, it may seem like this special soup is served everyday for the first month of a new job, but your mind just might be playing tricks on you.
Head to Sasang Station:
All within less than a five minute walk from each other, are three wonderful shops full of vegetable love. Each one is a little different, but they all carry Indian, Pakistani, and Thai cooking supplies. Buy dried lentils, chickpeas, basmati and jasmine rice, cumin, and loads of other spices and curry mixes. They also sell fresh cilantro/coriander, frozen paratha, and pita bread. Basically, you can spend eighty thousand won and be set for months. The basmati rice is pricey though, but it is a nice change from the typical rice you normally pick up in the chain stores.
It is alright to be rude:
People are going to try and get you to eat all kinds of things. In the words of Nancy Reagan, “Just say no.” Koreans can be quite assertive about food – you be that way, too. Besides, it is not really being rude, just direct and being vegetarian takes commitment. Employ the same will you use when requesting vacation days or wanting to know why you didn’t get paid at work.
Tofu and noodles:
Chances are that there is a place near your apartment to buy both of these items freshly made and on the cheap. For two thousand won or less you can have three days worth of meals.
Love that onion salad:
Instead of skipping dinner with friends and coworkers when they go to samgyupsal or galbi restaurants, join them. Every restaurant has its own side dishes. Some, though not many, are straight up vegetables. Raw onions may be an acquired taste, but are wonderful when acquired (Personally, I have grown quite fond of rice with sesame oil and garlic). The social dining scene stands as one of the great things about living here, so be sure and indulge even if it is only in rice, raw garlic slices, soju and Cass.
Scour the shops:
Whenever you swing through a Lotte Department Store or any other store that sells canned and dried goods, take a quick look. Stores are always changing their inventory in the imported foods section. You never know when that can of beans, spice mix, pasta sauce, or something else you might like will be there. One week you can find vegetarian refried beans and the next week nothing, so take the two minutes and do some ‘window shopping.’
Visit a vegetarian restaurant:
Busan has at least four vegan restaurants. Two are in Seomyeon, one in the PNU area, and one in the Kyungsung area. Check the Busan Haps home page for more information.
Restaurant Review: Loving the Loving Hut
On that wonderful walk between The Basement and Crossroads it sits. You have seen it many times when in PNU. Mostly you notice that sometimes there are many people inside eating and sometimes not a soul. What brings people in there and keeps them away? Well, it is that wonderful, 100% vegan food of course!
Yes, there is vegan food right here in Busan. (Actually, there are at least four vegan restaurants here in your home away from home).
One can not go wrong with a menu choice at the Loving Hut. However, should you visit there alone for your first time, consider the veggie cutlet or the bean paste stew. Both are served with an array of side dishes. Meaty versions of both of these dishes are very popular in Korea, but to actually taste either of them made of way of one hundred percent vegetables is a real treat.
The best option at the Loving Hut is their set meal, which must be ordered for at least two people. At 8,000KRW, it is the most expensive item on the menu and the best value all at the same time.
The set menu comes with a bowl of soup, rice, some dishes made with minimal use of ‘fake meats’, and loads of side dishes. The side dishes allow non-meat eaters to partake in Korean cuisine.
For many vegetarians and vegans the opportunities to eat kimchi and other side dishes minus the fish sauce are few and far between. Side dishes vary from visit to visit, but are always fresh and made with seasonal vegetables. This is Korea, so if you really dig a particular side, just ask for more. (Also, the Loving Hut does not recycle food—how groovy).
Whether you eat animals, vegetables, or both, give the Loving Hut a try. The service is great, the food is fresh, and the location is just right. If you are vegetarian then this could be your new favorite place to dine in PNU and maybe even in Busan.