One of the best parts of teaching English abroad is getting the opportunity to go on culinary adventures and try unique foods.
This can certainly still be the case for vegetarians, but it does require a bit more care and stealth when trying to figure out just what ingredients are in different dishes.
In South Korea, this challenge is particularly prevalent.
As a carnivore’s paradise, South Korean cuisine is almost entirely centered around meat, seafood, and rice, and oftentimes it can be hard to distinguish what is what.
To top this off, a lot of the vegetable side dishes are coated in gochujang, a red chili paste that often has traces of fish bits in it.
Dining out alone can also be a challenge, as meals at restaurants are almost always served family-style, with large pots and bowls of various dishes making up a spread across the table.
This makes it pretty hard to go out to eat with a group of people, especially if you are the lone vegetarian.
In this article, I will tell you how to thrive as a vegetarian when teaching English in South Korea.
Learning to read Korean is a great tool to have if you’re going to be living in the country for an extended period of time, as almost every sign and menu will be written in Korean, especially if you are outside of one of the major cities.
Luckily, the alphabet is extremely simple and many menus will feature Koreanized Western dishes. It is a lot easier to spend a few hours learning the letter/sound combinations than to rely on your waitress understanding your needs.
More often than not, “no meat” could be interpreted as “just a little meat”, and the subsequent conversation can get pretty awkward. It isn’t that they’re trying to trick you into eating something you don’t want.
It’s just that a lot of Koreans, especially the older generations, have no concept of what vegetarianism is and why one would choose to be one.
South Korea has become very affluent in modern days and, as such, people who couldn’t previously afford the luxury of meat now can.
However, as is the case with nearly every country, there are always viable (and even tasty) options for authentic vegetarian Korean dishes, if you’re willing to try hard enough.
Read: How to Learn Korean
Go to Specialized Restaurants in South Korea!
When going out to a Korean restaurant that is not specifically vegetarian, which is almost all of them, you should remember that each restaurant usually only serves a certain kind of food.
For example, if you’d like to try gamja jeon (감자 전 ) or pa jeon (감자 전) potato or spring onion fried pancakes, respectively), you’d typically head to a pancake restaurant. Korean pancakes are always savory, never sweet, and are a great option for vegetarians.
Some types have an eclectic mix of various sea creatures, though, so make sure to go for only the basic gamja or pa.
Another important thing to remember is that hundreds of different versions of the same dish can exist, so just because something was alright in one location doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be in another (unfortunately).
Learn to Cook Local Vegetarian Foods!
Being a vegetarian in South Korea is not that difficult if you cook your meals.
The problem is when you travel around the country. Still, you need to learn to cook local vegetarian foods because much of the product you are used to eating at home may not be available.
Using Pinterest boards is a great way to learn to cook South Korean meals.
Simply do a quick search and you will get the picture and the recipe with instructions.
YouTube is also a great source for cooking ideas! Watch the video below