Korea’s Most Popular Vegan Foods

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Korea’s food is traditionally vegan; for centuries, the main food of the Korean diet has been a rice served with side dishes (or banchans, as they are locally known) of vegetables. The diet of Koreans has often been associated with that of the Korean Buddhist monk and, although meat has gradually found its way into modern culture due to the country’s developing economy, non-animal produce remains at the forefront of daily meals. Typical Korean cuisine is spicy and dishes are often made “to taste”. The Korean phrase for this is ‘Son-maht’, which translates into English as “hand taste”. Korea is a great place to find a huge variation of vegan ingredients, foods and dishes; here are some favourites.



The healthy doenjang is a traditional Korean food dish that is full of nutrients for vegetarian diets. It is made from fermented soybean paste. The soybean is found and farmed in abundance across Korea, but doenjang is arguably its most famous usage. The beans are boiled and ground into pieces, which are then compacted into large, rough blocks. The blocks are then put under direct sunlight, with dried rice plants covering the surfaces. These covered blocks are then fermented for between one and three months for maximum effect, before being transferred into pots for further fermenting. When the fermenting process has finished, the liquid is then separated from the solid; the solid becoming the doenjang paste. This healthy doenjang paste is full of vital vitamins for vegans and is typically served as a tasty condiment or as seasoning. It is also used to produce another very popular Korean dish – Ssambap.


This popular Korean dish is made by mixing doenjang with a group of ingredients – usually sesame oil and garlic – and then wrapping them in red leaf lettuce. It is also eaten mixed with rice and vegetables. Usually consumed as a condiment, this popular vegan product is also used as flavouring for soup broth and stew.

Soy sauce

Perhaps one of the most famous products to be made in Korea is soy sauce. Commonly used in a huge variety of popular dishes, soy sauce is the liquid that is made during the fermenting process described above when making doenjang.

Doenjang jjigae

This tasty stew is based upon doenjang or ssambap flavouring. The broth is then mixed with a whole host of tasty vegan ingredients, such as roughly chopped vegetables (typically courgettes and red chilli peppers) and tofu.


This is a popular salad, entrée or light lunch dish. It is a well-known vegan dish that consists of mixed rice with a selection of cold vegetables such as lettuces, grated carrot, chopped onions and bean sprouts. It is then served with a hot chilli paste. The signature dish is often served with an egg on top, although this is an addition and not part of the dish’s vegan roots. Bibimbap is popular across the whole of Korea, although the cities of Jinju, Tongyeong and Jeonju all have their own delicious variations.


This is another widely-served Korean favourite, often eaten as a snack. It was traditionally served as a royal dish, eventually filtering its way down into everyday meal times. Ddeokbokki is made by boiling vegetables (typically shitake mushrooms, cabbage, green onions and carrots), seasonings, tofu and rice cakes in a pan of water and serving it topped with sesame seeds, ginkgo nuts and walnuts.

Bean sprout soup

The bean sprout is a popular ingredient in Korean cuisine, and is used to enhance many signature dishes. Bean sprout soup is refreshing, simple and light, and is often served as an entrée. The quick-to-make transparent soup is a healthy snack that is full of vitamins essential to the vegetarian diet and is low in calories. It is sometimes served with a chilli powder to give it that extra kick.

Braised tofu

Tofu is another commonly-used ingredient in Korean cuisine, forming the basis of the vegan diet. It is used in many forms, but is most popular when braised. Braised tofu is made from chopping up a block of tofu into cubes, and simmering it with honey, garlic, soy sauce and vegetable sauce. It is then flavoured with onion and chillies to make a delicious snack or to form the base of many meals.

Oi Sobaegi

This popular snack consists of stuffed cucumber kimchi. Oi sobaegi is eaten throughout the day and is made by marinating pickling cucumbers in salt water. The cucumber is cut into quarter strips and then the slits between the slices are stuffed with spice, seasoning and finely-cut onions. The cucumbers are then put in a container and submerged in liquid, where they pickle for up to eight hours before being served cold.

- Post submitted by our guest Lily Leigh


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