I was so happy when I found out I won a contest to go to Korea through the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), and then two minutes later I started panicking. I’ve been a vegetarian for 10 years, and almost every Korean dish is made with fish or meat. A lot of dishes are just straight up meat! Not knowing what else to do, I ordered 2,000 PowerBars. Thankfully, the KTO told me that contrary to popular belief, I’d be fine as a vegetarian in Korea.

Thanks to them, I ended up eating like a meat-hating king on an unbelievable vegetarian food tour led by Ryan Choi from Good Day Tour. Now that I’m back in the States, I feel like I have to write a guide to convince all the other K-obsessed vegetarians that they can go to Korea, and can indulge like all the other tourists. Here are three of my favorite vegetarian lifelines and where to find them.



Without a doubt, bibimbap was the MVP of my trip. Most restaurants have it on the menu because it’s so easy to make and tastes so good. If you’re unfamiliar with the dish, it’s an array of fresh vegetables, egg, meat (blech), and gochujang sauce, the ultimate Korean condiment, all served over rice. To make it vegetarian, all you have to do is order it without meat. And since you’re the one mixing everything up, it’s especially good for paranoid eaters like myself, who won’t believe there’s no meat if they can’t confirm with their own eyes.


The very first meal I had in Korea was perhaps my best, at Chamsutgol in Seoul. While they’re famous for their meat, their bibimbap dishes are equally renowned. I enjoyed a beoseot (mushroom) bibimbap that wasn’t too greasy and had the perfect amount of spiciness to it. If you’re in Seoul and you find yourself in the Jung District, this is a must-visit. More generally, you can find this dish at almost any traditional restaurant, and it is always a treat.


Speaking of, my flight to Korea served a delicious looking bibimbap, but I couldn’t eat it because it already had beef in it. And they didn’t have a vegetarian option, at all. Unless you want to bring your own snacks for the flight, be sure to call 24 hours in advance to make sure there’s a vegetarian meal waiting for you!



If the language barrier is making you anxious, the most sure-fire way to eat vegetarian is to eat at a Buddhist temple. Monks have long since sworn off meat and fish, so everything they serve is 100 percent vegetarian, and in many cases also vegan. The dishes include simple vegetables cooked in a deliciously salty and spicy sauces, seasoned tofu, and a healthy serving of tempura-fried veggies.


While you can stop in at just about any major temple for a meal, there’s an intriguing alternative squirreled away in a back alley of Seoul. San Chon Temple Cooking was founded by Monk Jeongsan, who is, of course, an actual monk, and provides a one-of-a-kind 16-part set menu. But the food isn’t the only draw, the restaurant’s atmosphere made me feel like I’d fallen into another world. In stark contrast to the bustling streets of Seoul, the yawning interior is filled with lush plants, antique furniture, and beautiful works of art. At a flat (and generous) cost of around $30 per person, no vegetarian should visit Korea without getting the San Chon experience.



It would be a fool’s errand to describe the many, many dishes, desserts, and out-of-this-world snacks sold on the streets of Korea. It would be like trying to count the stars of a night sky. No one person can do it. While the visible majority of street food is a meat eater’s dream, there are ample options for a junk-food-loving vegetarian, such as myself.

The classic snack is of course ddeokbokki, or spicy rice cakes. You get a hearty serving of chewy rice cakes, which reminded me of Japanese mochi, but not as sweet. They come swimming in a mouth-watering hot red sauce that’s as spicy as the cakes are chewy. These go great with jeon, a mungbean pancake fried to crispy perfection and filled with your choice of vegetable or meat (again, blech). Biting into a jeon took me right back to the Hannukah latkes of my youth. And you can pick up some fascinating fish-less varieties of kimbap (like sushi) to go along with your meal.

The best-tasting and most Instagrammable foods are the novelties. These are the treats that delight the eyes as much as the palate, like a 32-centimeter tall ice cream cone, or the logic-defying spiral of fried starch and cheese known only as the Tornado Potato. There are cute pastries shaped like animals filled with delicious and distinctly Asiatic fillings, like sweet red bean paste.


The greatest joy of street food is that you don’t have to seek it out. Like the abundant hot dog slingers of Times Square, vendors practically line the streets of Seoul. For a great meal, head to the insanely crowded Gwangjang Market for some insanely good street food. It’s easy to tell which stalls are the best, just take note of how long the lines are.

But if you’re in the mood for an adventure on your feet, the Myeongdong Market is great for turning four or five snacks into a late-night meal. If you want a better idea of what it’s like there, check out the live tour I recorded during my trip!


I’m happy to be back in America, partially because it is so much easier to be a vegetarian here. And yet, I still find myself craving some of the more unique dishes I had in Korea. Where else could I find a roadside restaurant that only serves vegetables freshly picked from the nearby mountain? Where else could I experience a gourmet 16-part meal at a restaurant run by an authentic monk?

And as a vegetarian, I feel like I had a truly unique tour of Korea. The KTO and my tour guide Ryan really dug deep to take me through a very specific part of Korea’s culture. They expertly crafted a trip that was perfect for me, and they can do the same thing for you. If you’re interested in going to Korea, I can’t recommend Good Day Tour enough. You can book your trip here.