There are many famous meat-based Korean dishes, but what about vegetarians? If you avoid meat and seafood, Korean vegetarian dishes are a great option to immerse yourself in Korean culture. Richly spiced and perfectly balanced, vegetarian Korean recipes are just as good, if not better than their beef or seafood counterparts.
While many Korean veg dishes contain eggs or dairy, there are also plenty of vegan Korean recipes to try out. Steeped in history and tradition, these meals are as nutritious as they are tasty!
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Is It Easy To Find Korean Vegetarian Food?
Thanks to Korea’s long history of Buddhist culture, it’s relatively easy to find vegetarian and vegan Korean recipes. Korean temple food focuses on the sanctity of life and humanity’s spiritual connection to the earth, so many dishes are vegetable-based. This is similar to the Buddhist-temple cuisine we ate in Wakayama Japan.
Another contributor to the high availability of Korean vegetarian dishes is the scarcity of meat. Traditionally, Koreans relied heavily on vegetables, grains, and beans for their nutrition, as the meat was expensive and difficult to come by for many families. Nowadays, however, many dishes are cooked in beef or seafood broth – strict vegetarians or vegans should check the ingredients before they eat!
Korean vegetable recipes aren’t just popular for main meals. Many side dishes like kimchi and gamja salad are also vegetarian and are the perfect accompaniment for rich and spicy Korean food. Just be sure a dish doesn’t have fermented fish sauce in it.
Check out more Korean recipes:
Tips For Cooking Vegetarian Korean Food
Korean culture focuses on eating for health. As such, many Korean veg recipes contain high-nutrient foods like kimchi, garlic, and seaweed that taste good and make you feel great.
One piece of advice for cooking vegetarian Korean food: follow the rule of 5 tastes. Koreans believe in the balance of flavors, so meals will have a combination of salt, sweet, sour, heat, and bitter tastes. Korean vegetable recipes will incorporate ingredients like soy sauce, soybean paste, vinegar, chili peppers, and ginger to give life to otherwise boring meals. This is especially important for vegan Korean recipes, which don’t have the added boost of eggs or dairy to elevate flavors.
Korean vegetarian dishes usually follow an arrangement of colors to ensure a varied nutritional profile of the meal. Following the ‘rainbow rule,’ red, yellow, green, black, and white foods come together in beautifully prepared plates that not only look and taste good but guarantee a wide range of vitamins and micronutrients in the diet.
For the amateur cook attempting vegetarian or vegan Korean recipes for the first time, the most important thing is to tailor it to your tastes! Korean food is often on the spicy side, and if you’re not big on heat, umami or sweet flavors, it’s best to find a balance that works for you.
Typical Korean Vegetarian Dishes
While there are some meals that could be described as ‘typical Korean vegetarian dishes’, in reality there is no real template to follow. Each dish is unique and tastes different depending on the chef and personal preference of the diners.
Some typical vegetarian Korean dishes include glass noodle salads, steamed eggplant (gaji namul), and sweet Korean pancakes (hotteok), often eaten as quick snacks on the go.
Many famous Korean dishes can be easily be made vegetarian by omitting or substituting ingredients. Try using vegetable broth instead of beef broth for vegetarian bulgogi, or swapping dashi powder for soy sauce for the perfect Korean silken tofu.
Here are some of the best Korean vegetarian recipes for you to test out – we promise you’ll find a new favorite!
The Best Korean Vegetarian Recipes
Vegetarian Japchae – Korean Glass Noodles
Made with simple ingredients, this homemade Japchae recipe will come together quickly and easily. Packed with vegetables, it’s perfect as a main or side dish. If you swap out the honey for molasses this can also be one of the tastiest and most traditional Korean vegan recipes
Easy Korean Vegetarian Noodle Recipe
This Easy Korean Noodles Recipe can be made in under 15 minutes. You will love the rice noodles mixed with kale and mushrooms and topped with a sweet, soy-based sauce. Top your finished dish with sesame seeds and green onions.
Cold Kimchi Noodle Salad Recipe
This cold spicy kimchi noodle salad is perfect for a make-ahead lunch! Top with roasted chicken or cubes of tofu for more protein.
Spicy Korean Sweet Potatoes
Sweet and caramelized on the outside, fluffy and tender on the inside, these Korean Sweet Potatoes have that ultra combination of sweet and salty, with a touch of spice
Vegan Kimchi Soup – Sundubu Jjigae
This vegan kimchi soup is an easy version of Korean tofu stew (Sundubu jjigae), and is made with kimchi, tofu, and potatoes. Make it in the Instant Pot or on the stovetop!
Korean Steamed Eggplant
Whipped up in under 10 minutes, this healthy and flavorsome Korean Steamed Eggplant Side Dish is calling your name! Gaji namul is a popular Korean side dish, and it’s easy to see why. Lip smackingly delicious!
Gochujang Roasted Butternut Squash
Sweet tender butternut squash pairs wonderfully with spicy savory gochujang sauce. Enjoy this Gochujang Roasted Butternut Squash as a side dish for any Korean-inspired dinner.
Korean Silken Tofu
This quick and easy Silken Tofu with Soy Sesame Sauce is made in less than 5 minutes with only a handful of ingredients! It’s the perfect refreshing side dish.
Spicy Korean Tofu
This spicy Korean Tofu is made with Gochujang for a delicious and addictive dish. Serve over rice with a vegetable side or add to a Bibimbap bowl.
Vegan Korean Tofu Lettuce Wraps
Vegan Korean Tofu Lettuce Wraps with Tahini Gochujang Sauce and Spicy Slaw are the fun, flavorful and healthful way to get your Korean food fix!
Korean BBQ Jackfruit Sliders
If you haven’t tried jackfruit yet, this is the recipe to do it with! These saucy Korean BBQ Jackfruit Sliders are perfect for entertaining.
Korean Cucumber Pickles
Slightly pickled, tart and sweet, these Korean cucumber pickles are addictive! Enjoy them alongside many Korean main dishes.
Hotteok – Sweet Korean Pancakes
These Hotteok (Sweet Korean Pancakes) are a popular Korean street food made with a super simple yeast dough and filled with an amazing melt-in-your mouth mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and walnuts.
Gamja Salad – Korean Potato Salad
A classic Korean banchan (side dish) to eat with Korean barbecue. This delicious potato salad has a surprising crunch of apples as well as cucumbers!
FAQs – Tasty Vegetarian Korean Recipes
Korean cuisine features a number of vegetarian dishes including the most famous dish in Korea, kimchi. This abundance of vegetable-forward dishes makes Korean food some of the healthiest in the world. However, vegetarians and vegans need to take note that Korean food regularly features a fish sauce called, aekjeot.
While Korean meat dishes such as Bibimbap and Korean barbecue are very popular, there are plenty of dishes a vegetarian can eat in South Korea. Some of the most popular vegetarian Korean dishes include Kimbap, Pajeon, and Ramyeon. All of these dishes can easily be found in restaurants in Seoul.
Yes, Bungeoppang is vegetarian. Bungeo-ppang is one of the most popular snacks in South Korean. This fish-shaped snack is made with a sweet red bean paste stuffed into a floured pastry. Since there is no fish in Bungeo-ppang it is a vegetarian friendly Korean snack.