For vegetarians in Korea, eating out can feel like a never-ending conveyor belt of bibimbap. Most social gatherings here tend to revolve around meat, meat and more meat. If you’re invited out for dinner, you can be 90% sure it will be a traditional barbeque. And, even if you do find something that seems like it may be vegetarian- say, soft tofu broth, you’re probably going to find some chunks of pork floating along the bottom.
Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been trying to eat a mostly plant-based diet. My skin has been better, I feel more energetic and I know that my diet is having less impact on the environment and cruelty to animals. It’s all been pretty dandy. That is until it comes to travelling around the country and meeting up with friends.
While big cities like Seoul and Busan cater fairly well to vegetarians, the same can’t be said for the country as a whole.
After doing a templestay in Gyeongju where Veeran and I tasted some of the most drool-worthy Korean food, we’ve been determined to find restaurants selling similar food. After scouring Naver high and low, we didn’t manage to find any temple restaurants per se, but we did make a particularly game-changing discovery:
So what’s boribap? The answer’s not that exciting, actually. Basically, boribap is a combination of steamed rice and barley served with banchan (side dishes) and a soup; usually, doenjangguk (a traditional Korean soup similar to Japanese miso.)
Right now you’re probably wondering what’s so game-changing about rice and banchan. After all, it’s pretty much the afterthought/bread and butter of every meal in Korea.
What makes boribap different is that the banchan that’s served isn’t the usual uninspiring combination of radish cubes and kimchi- although they do make an appearance, of course.
Not content with always being the supporting role, the banchan is the star of this show.
On our table, we had a combination of kimchi (of course), baby oyster mushrooms, green onion salad, courgettes, spinach and loads of other things. There was even some fish there to keep non-veggies happy.
As is customary with boribap, our dish was served with doenjangguk. Vegetarians and vegans should know that this is usually prepared with anchovy broth.
Boribap as a Dining Experience
One of the things that I loved most about our boribap meal was how reminiscent it was of the communal Korean dining experience that I miss. With the assortment of veggie side dishes and the variety of different sauces and pastes, it felt a bit like a “build your own bibimbap” night! Stuffing my banchan and rice into a lettuce leaf reminded me of soju-fuelled nights eating samgyeopsal with friends.
So, for all you vegetarians in Korea, sick of eating bowls of iced noodles while your friends chow down strips of galbi, why not suggest a night out at your local boribap restaurant? A quick search on kakao maps for 보리밥 will show you any nearby restaurants. We live in a pretty small city and had several nearby, so I’m sure that you will too!
If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to check out some of my other posts about expat life in Korea. Here are a few to get you started!
Let me know, which vegetarian Korean dish do you love?