If you have a Korean grandma, she'll probably still insist a little bit of meat doesn't count. Vegan food's not easy to come by but it's finally here! Here are the best restaurants for vegans that come entirely vegan or offer vegan-friendly options.
Although Plant, the beloved vegan haven of Itaewon, opened in 2013, its roots trace back to 2009 when Plant’s owner, Mipa Lee started her blog Alien’s Day Out. Documenting the ins and outs of being a vegan in Seoul, her following grew from the baked goods that she sold online. She eventually settled into this cozy one-room restaurant off the main road of Itaewon. Drawing inspiration from the many places where Mipa has lived, such as England, the U.S. and West Africa, the restaurant offers up a variety of dishes, including a Thai peanut soba bowl, chickpea avo sandwich and three-bean and lentil chili served with homemade vegan cornbread and a side salad with agave mustard dressing. While the menu features around two to three items at a time, everything’s packed with flavor and none of it is necessarily “diet food.” If you’re not convinced, check out the desserts on display—red velvet cakes and cupcakes, thick chocolate cakes, banana muffins, coconut cookies and more. Peek into the glass behind the counter and you get a sense of how much care is put into every single meal that’s served. Talk to Mipa and you begin to realize that being vegan is not just about food, but “trying to live a more compassionate life.” Every customer is greeted with a smile and leaves full after enjoying a hearty, satisfying meal. It’s no wonder that Plant holds such a dear place in the hearts of so many vegans (and even non-vegans) in Seoul.
Those who doubt how delicious vegan food can be have yet to try the vegan pizza at PPURI on the plate. The pizza dough is made from either whole wheat or brown rice and the sauce is topped with several pan-fried seasonal vegetables, potatoes, one type of root plant and organic soy cheese. Flavorful without being greasy, this gluten-free, sugar-free and organic delicacy is enough to make any skeptic change his or her mind. The only downfall? Food items such as the vegan pizza and vegan sushi are only available when PPURI runs their pop-up restaurant several times a month (a monthly schedule is posted on their Facebook page via which you can also make reservations). The rest of the time, PPURI operates as a vegan café offering desserts, such as Korean brown rice cake or Earl Grey cake, paired with their caffeine-free Grains Coffee (made with barley, malted barley, chicory and rye). The owners of PPURI, married couple Lee Yoon-seo and Kang Dae-woong, are not only dedicated vegans but also conscious about eating nutritious, healthy food that’s part of a macrobiotic diet. “Since we rely so heavily on SNS, we’re really close to a lot of our customers. For some who are gluten-free, it’s really hard for them to dine out and they can quickly become regulars.”
Currently located in Hapjeong, Cook and Book (circa 2010) is one of the longest running vegan cafés in Seoul. Formerly located closer to Hongik University Station, the café’s owner Chun Soo-mi decided to move away from the busier main street in search of a quieter haven back in 2013. Chun first got her inspiration to start a vegan café during her days at cooking school in San Francisco. “Although we learned how to cook meat, I made a lot of friends who were vegetarian. Through them, I realized how good purely vegetarian food could taste.” Since then, Cook and Book has evolved from running baking classes to selling baked goods to now serving simple dishes as well. The café proudly displays a sign that reads “No butter. No egg. No milk.” While small cooking classes (predominately baking related) are still held every Wednesday and many customers come in for the vegi burger with demi-glace sauce, desserts, such as the vegan carrot cake and vegan brownie, reign supreme served on colorful, vintage china. Chun, who runs the kitchen on her own, says the hardest part is handpicking the fresh ingredients that go into her food. “I want to make sure that the food’s as natural as possible.”
In Sinchon, bakeries are a dime a dozen and at first glance, there’s not much to differentiate The Bread Blue from any other local bakery in the neighborhood. Filled with baguettes, cakes and other cream-filled pastries, you might not notice that the bakery’s vegan at all were it not for the signs outside. Chief Manager Shin Seong-Cheol explains that some customers are even in disbelief about the fact that there’s no milk or eggs in any of their products. “Instead of topping our garlic bread with butter, we top [it] with our special rice oil. We make alterations for everything, making even vegan cream for our cream puffs.” One of the most popular breads at the moment is the potato baguette, which is topped with seasoned potatoes—making it a great, hearty meal during the winter. With several universities nearby and large, spacious seating, The Bread Blue seems a popular destination for many students to come munch on some bread and study. Shin, who originally started The Bread Blue because he knew a few children with skin atrophy due to lactose intolerance, says that the café’s equally well-liked amongst older Koreans. “They’re not really sure what it’s made out of but they just like it because it settles well with their stomachs.”
When Jack’s Bean Falafel closed it doors in Hongdae late 2014, vegans and non-vegans alike sighed with regret—so fans were overjoyed when they reopened in a new location in early 2015, more ready than ever to serve up their popular falafel wraps, hummus, soups and salads. They make everything fresh to order, so wait times can be a bit long during peak hours—but it’s worth the wait. The hummus is not overly salty, and the falafels are likewise mildly seasoned. Each wrap contains two very large falafel balls, so those of you who prefer more of the crispy, fried exterior may be a little disappointed. But we think the other fillings make up for it, resulting in a satisfying lunch that’s easy to take on the go.