The number of vegetarians is significantly increasing as people become more aware of the benefits of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds for the environment, human health, and animal welfare. According to the Korea Vegan Union, the number of vegetarians in Korea has expanded more than 16 times in 13 years from 150.000 in 2008 to 2.5 million in 2021. As the demand for vegetarian food increases, the number of products targeting vegetarian restaurants and the vegetarian community is increasing. For Korean non-meat eaters, those from abroad or even Dankookians (Students of Dankook University) who wish to experience vegetarianism, The Dankook Herald (DKH) has some healthy local dishes we recommend you try.
‘Tteokbokki’ is a Korean street food made with rice cakes and vegetables simmered in a red pepper paste-based sauce. Other ingredients such as fish cake can be added for some, but for vegetarians it is left out. Gimbap is another popular dish in Korea that can also be made suitable for vegetarians. It is made up of rice and vegetables such as carrots, cucumber, and spinach, wrapped in seaweed. The vegetables included in Gimbap are the choice of the consumer, so there are many variations available creating a variety of tastes. It is a dish that is easily customizable for vegetarians eating in ordinary restaurants that do not specialize in vegetarian food as they can ask them to remove typical ingredients such as ham and eggs. Green onion pancake is also a vegetarian dish found in Korea. It is created by using wheat green onions. While eggs and seafood are frequently used, strict vegans can request they be left out when ordering from typical Korean restaurants. When it rains, it is customary in Korea to eat green onion pancakes along with a traditional Korean rice liquor called, makgeolli.
|▲ Gimbap, Soybean Bulgogi, Korean Traditional Noodle, and Sikhye From Vegan Restaurant (Photo from The Dankook Herald)|
In addition to these easily accessible vegetarian foods, the DKH recommends students experience a temple stay. During a ‘temple stay’, you get a glimpse into the daily lives of Buddhist practitioners in temples that offer vegetarian food. Korean Buddhism forbids eating meat, so meals prepared at the temple are strictly vegetarian. Tofu with water parsley seasoning, bibimbap with wild vegetables, rice soup with dried radish leaves, and other dishes are examples of temple food.
In the Nirvana Sutra, Buddha stated that eating flesh extinguishes the flame of compassion. According to Buddhism teachings, compassion means you embrace every living thing as oneself. "More and more individuals are converting their diet to vegetarianism due to the impact the meat market has had on the environment.” said monk Hong Seung of the Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism. "Practicing a vegetarian diet is the first step in preserving the ecology and the earth," she added. However, it is difficult to affirm that all temple cuisine is vegetarian. The cuisine served at temples has some limitations on vegetables. It does not utilize ‘O-shin-chae’, which refers to the five vegetables; onions, garlic, chives, green onions, and leek. This is since o-shin-chae is a spice and that some of its pharmacological properties may generate a taste obsession and interfere with spiritual practice. Also, depending on the circumstances, sometimes animal products such as fish and meat may be served in temple food. Nevertheless, vegetarianism and temple food share a common purpose in that they care about the environment and the dignity of all life. They encourage us to contemplate where food comes from and how it affects the environment.
|▲ The Notice of the Vegan Restaurant ‘Tteuranchea' (Photo from The Dankook Herald)|
The DKH visited ‘ Tteuranchea’ a vegetarian restaurant 30 minutes away from the Jukjeon campus by public transportation and 10 minutes walk from Goseong station. Tteuranchae is an affordable Korean food buffet restaurant for vegetarians. It offers a large variety of dishes, including entrées, sides, and desserts. Seasoned sedum salad, seaweed salad, traditional Korean noodles, and soybean Bulgogi were on the menu as well as a sweet pumpkin dessert salad topped with red beans. There were also traditional beverages like Sikye and Sujeonggwa on offer. This restaurant is suitable for vegetarians looking for Korean food as well as people who are interested in trying something different.
The DKH hopes this introduction was helpful for vegetarian Dankookians, or even those interested in trying out the diet in Korea. It may surprise you to find out how simple it is to find vegetarian meals on the streets of Korea. From tteokbokki to gimbap and even green onion pancake, vegetarian options are everywhere. There are vegetarian buffet restaurants or if you are interested in more traditional vegetarian food, we recommended a temple stay for exposure to Korean Buddhist vegetarian culture. While vegetarian food is readily available in Korea and comes in a variety of forms, for the protection of the environment, we hope that this introduction helps Dankookians find a few new options in their diet, or even encourages you to try it for the first time.
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