I’ll admit Seoul was never high on my vegan agenda. I had assumed that it was the land of fish and that going as a vegan would be more of a diet trip than a culinary exploration, that is, until I saw an announcement that the country was making a significant investment in plant-based technology.
In October 2023, South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs announced a plan to invest in additional research and expand the export potential of current veggie products. This intrigued me, and shortly after that, The Korea Tourism Board slipped into my inbox with an invitation to experience the vegan scene in the country.
The vegan stars aligned, and I was meant to see what was happening.
I spent about a week bouncing around the country, with a couple of days in the country’s capital, Seoul. With the growth of plant-based options, a couple of days in Seoul wasn’t enough to recover from jet lag AND fully explore this thriving city — if your time is limited, like me, I guarantee you’ll want to return.
So, get ready to immerse yourself in everything from traditional Korean dishes with innovative plant-based twists to vegan junk food — there really isn’t anything you won’t find in Seoul. This guide will help you find some of my favorite tasty vegan restaurants in Seoul and provide essential tips to know before you go! Although the veggie scene is expanding, it’s not always the easiest place to navigate, so make sure you don’t skip the tips!
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Is Seoul Vegan-Friendly?
Seoul’s vegan-friendliness is a mixed bag. You will find plenty of really fabulous vegan and vegetarian restaurants, but once you go outside of those, things can be a little challenging. Koreans love all things fish (sauce, paste, etc)! So, seemingly innocent veggie and noodle dishes, which to the naked eye might seem vegan (or even vegetarian), are most likely not.
The terms vegan and vegetarian have also become a little trendy, and people don’t always define them in the sense that we’ve all come to know what they mean. For example, people might think fish is ok on a vegan or vegetarian diet. I was also given a vegan snack (from someone who said they understood what vegan meant), but it contained milk. So, it’s important to double-check whatever you’re buying and use Google Translate (see more about that below).
The Best Vegan & Vegan-Friendly Restaurants to Check Out in Seoul
Note: unfortunately, many of these places don’t have websites! I linked to social accounts if I found them. Googling is the only other way to try and find additional info on them.
Slip away into a secret garden at this vegan hideaway in hip Itaewon. This charming spot exudes Anthropologie vibes, and from the moment you walk in, to the moment you leave, you’ll want to take a picture of everything. While the setting will have you swooning, you’ll also be head over heels for their globally-inspired menu with a clear love for Italian cuisine. From flavorful paella with plump king oyster mushrooms to perfectly golden pesto-covered pizza, you’ll probably want to order one of everything (and you probably should). Although they call themselves lazy, it’s clear there are no lazy farmers or chefs at this vibrant spot.
Gangnam, Seoul (inside of the COEX Mall)
Pulmuone, one of the main food companies that have jumped on the plant-based bandwagon in Korea, wanted to find a way to showcase some of its new products and thought, is there a better way than in a trendy restaurant? Absolutely not! The company started with traditional Korean foods and then developed a variety of meat alternatives under the brand Plantspired, all of which you can try here! Plantude features a creative menu with veganized Korean and Western dishes, from a veggie-packed Bibimpap bowl to ratatouille-topped pasta and everything in between!
If you’re looking for a memorable dining experience, look no further than this Michelin-starred vegan-friendly restaurant. In 2021, they were awarded a Bib Gourmand and Michelin Green Star for their commitment to quality dishes that are sourced sustainably. The Korean fusion menu focuses on healthy and flavorful dishes highlighting the country’s unique cuisine. I enjoyed their full veggie course, which featured an array of traditional fermented salads, mushrooms, plump buns, tofu, and more. The meal was rounded out with small sweet cakes (they look a little bit like tofu) and mini mugs of pumpkin juice. This was a dining experience that I might not have selected on my own, but I’m glad I tried it.
You might want to stay awhile at this cozy little vegan restaurant. From the warm and welcoming atmosphere centered around a small garden courtyard to the colorful Korean menu, there might be too much to love in one visit! Their menu focuses primarily on traditional Korean cuisine with a few international dishes, but you can get a quesadilla just about anywhere! I was with a group of Omnis when I visited here, and it was one of the few times when silence fell across the table as we stuffed ourselves silly on fried chick’n, tteokbokki, sweet and sour rice cakes, and much more. For something unique, don’t miss the bibimbap with a fried vegan egg — the texture and flavor was incredible!
Jamsil, Seoul (Inside the Lotte World Mall)
If you’ve had enough of the casual vegan dining scene and want to get a little fancy, there’s no better place to go for a fully vegan fine dining experience in Seoul than Forest Kitchen. This contemporary restaurant was honored as a Taste of Seoul Gourmet award winner for its impressive plant-based gastronomic experience. The set menu includes multiple veggie-forward courses that appear to be relatively simple, like eggplant and mushroom or radish, but once sampled, you’ll realize they’re anything but simple.
Lovinghut Land Café
After an incredibly long plane ride, I was greeted with a colorful box of veggie delights from this fantastic veggie franchise. It’s possible that the Lovinghut sounds familiar to you because it’s part of a franchise peppered around the world. Many locations have a heavily inspired Asian menu, but this one takes a little more of a Korean spin on things. There are also a few locations in Seoul, each with a slightly different menu. The Lovinghut Land Café has individual meals and handy vegan lunch box meals (like mine in the photo). Other locations also have baked goods, coffee, and some internationally-inspired dishes.
Maruj jaYeonsik Gimbap
This fast-casual, vegan Korean spot is right around the corner from the Kimchi Museum (an interesting museum, but the kimchi isn’t vegan). I walked by it twice and didn’t realize it was there, so keep your eyes open! You know the phrase, anything you can eat, I can eat vegan? Well, I feel like that’s the agenda behind this spot, but Korean-style! The menu has a little bit of everything from fish-less fish cakes to bunsik, kimbap, dumplings, and so much more.
If you’ve had your fill of kimpab and tteokbokki, then come to this laid-back little vegan café. The menu errs a little more on the international side, focusing on three main areas — salads, sandwiches, and wraps. While that might sound boring, it’s not! Go for an eggless wonder sandwich for something flavorful and unique, but for a full punch of veggies, grab a Sunrise bowl chock full of baked tofu, quinoa, and fresh veggies. Whatever you choose, don’t skip one of their chubby little cookies!
Multiple locations throughout Seoul
There might be too much to love at this hip vegan restaurant and bakery! From the sugar-filled dessert case to the greenery-flanked dining space, you might want to pencil in multiple stops here! The team behind these beautiful restaurants comes from all over the globe, which helps create its globally inspired menu. You’ll find spicy curry, veggie kofta balls with roasted veggies, smoked chorizo, and so much more. Through its diverse and flavorful fare, they’re proving that adopting a plant-based lifestyle isn’t just easy; it’s delicious!
Take a seat in their sunny window and dive into plates of Kung Pao chick’n, sweet chili shrimp, and chow mein at this vegan Chinese restaurant. I love the diversity of dishes at this spot; you can follow the more traditional veggie and tofu route or test out unique meat alternatives like shrimp (not super common in the US)! If you know what you want, go for it; if you’re stuck, they also offer set menus that allow you to get a couple of things. Word of warning: if you’re not a fan of spice, let them know! Otherwise, your mouth might have a five-alarm fire!
Vegan Travel Inspiration
Check out these other guides and articles to inspire other travels!
The Most Vegan-Friendly Cities to Visit in Europe
The Best Bali Vegan Guide from a Local
Vegan-Friendly Wellness Resorts for a Blissful Getaway
Vegan Adventures in Morocco: Essential Plant-Powered Travel Guide
Bangkok Vegan Guide: The Best Restaurants, Hotels, & Tips
Vegan-Friendly Hotel in Seoul
The whole vegan hotel concept hasn’t hit Seoul unless you count temples! Throughout the country, Buddhist temples offer visitors temple stays, which provide an opportunity into traditional life and fully plant-based food (they occasionally use honey)—more on that below, along with the hotel where I stayed.
119 Sogong-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
This hotel is located right in the heart of the city, steps from shopping, Seoul City Hall Station, night markets, and more! It’s really in an excellent location for exploring all of Seoul. On the veggie side, I found plenty of options on the breakfast buffet. At first, it was challenging because nothing was marked, but I asked one of the kitchen staff for help, and he walked with me around the buffet and pointed out everything. You’ll find plenty of traditional Korean breakfast options along with fruit, cereals, and bread, and they have multiple non-dairy milk options. I would definitely stay here again.
55 Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Consider a temple stay if you want to do something different and experience traditional Korean culture! Now, this isn’t going to be for everyone. This isn’t the type of experience where you drop your bags and come back later to sleep; if you do this, you should expect to participate in a full day of programming, including a temple tour, meditation, tea ceremony, and more. You also won’t have a private room; most rooms are communal and divided by gender. Jogyesa Temple is one of the most popular in Seoul and offers a few different programs for visitors, from just a one-day stay to multiple days. All of the food served at Jogyesa, as well as other temples, is plant-based. Most Korean Buddhist monks abstain from eating meat, eggs, and dairy.
Vegan Tips & Helpful Info for Visiting South Korea
There are definitely a few things I wish I had known before I went to South Korea, so hopefully, knowing these before you go will be helpful!
#1 Is kimchi vegan?
No, traditionally, kimchi is made with some type of fermented seafood product. Usually, things like fish sauce, shrimp, or seafood paste are added to the mix to give it flavor. I would stick to eating kimchi at vegan restaurants or a temple to ensure it’s fish-free. If you visit the kimchi museum (which is interesting), they don’t have vegan kimchi options. So, you’ll want to skip the taste testing!
#2 Are there vegan Korean foods?
Quite a few dishes, like kimbap, bibimbap, and japchae, can easily be made vegan but traditionally might have fish. On the surface, many Korean foods are made up of fermented or pickled veggies, so they appear to be safe, but fish is often used for seasoning. Before diving in, be sure always to ask if there is fish or stick with a vegan or vegetarian restaurant.
#3 Are any foods at the night markets vegan?
There aren’t a ton of options (don’t go hungry)! Night markets are dominated heavily by meat and seafood, but there are a couple of things to look out for. First, look for fruit vendors. You’ll find vendors with an array of fresh fruit and others with fruit like grapes and strawberries covered in a crunchy sugar glaze. Second, Hotteok, a sweet Korean pancake normally filled with sweet red beans or cinnamon and then fried, is generally safe. Their ingredients are simple: AP flour, rice flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and oil.
#4 Google Maps doesn’t work well in South Korea (nor will your Apple Air tag)
If you’re used to using Google Maps for walking or transit directions, think again! It can be helpful to help guide you in the correct direction, but the mapping functionality doesn’t work. The South Korean government and Google have yet to work out issues with storing data on local servers, which is also why Apple Air tags will stop working once they get to South Korea.
Instead of using Google Maps, you can use KakaoMap or Naver Map, but they aren’t the most user-friendly for English speakers. This guide does a great job breaking down how to use KakaoMap in English. I would download both apps and set them up before you go so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.
#5 Download Google Translate before you go
You shouldn’t expect locals to speak English outside hotels and major tourist sights. Some may have a basic understanding, but there’s massive potential for things to get lost in translation. The Google Translate app is game-changing. You can type in a short sentence (don’t make it complex; keep the English basic to avoid translation errors), and the app will translate it into Korean. I went back and forth with people this way, which was incredibly helpful.
In addition to speaking with someone directly, you can also use the app to translate packaging, including ingredients. You only have to take a photo of what you want to translate, and then the app does the work for you. This saved me from eating something with milk in it multiple times.
#6 The term vegan isn’t widely understood
Even in Seoul, veganism is still a growing term. A local told me that in some cases, it’s seen as trendy and equated to living a healthy lifestyle (not necessarily vegan); he’s also heard people say that they’re eco-vegan (also focused on being healthy/environmentally friendly but not necessarily vegan). I learned that everyone’s definition of vegan and vegetarian varied slightly, so I stopped saying I was vegan, and instead, I would tell people what I didn’t eat. I found that there was way less chance for things to get lost in translation this way.