Happy New Year Everyone!! So, what’s gonna be my very first post of the year? Well, I’ve been wanting to create a “best of” list for all the veg-friendly eateries in Seoul for quite a while, and what better time than now, as we just closed out the year 2010? I’ll call it my own version of the VegNews ‘2010 Veggie Awards.’ I know it would’ve been ideal to actually post this in 2010, but my internal clock is still on LA-time, so I reckon I’m good to go. :)
Even though there aren’t a ton of contenders for each category, it was still difficult to pick just one winner for some of them. That said, I would like to preface my unofficial list by saying that all picks are based on my own humble opinion and experiences, and that I am in no way shape or form getting paid by these establishments. So now that we have that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s get right to ’em!
Best All-Vegan Restaurant: This was a tough call, but I would have to say the Loving Hut Buffet at Achasan Station.
You simply cannot beat an all-you-can eat, diverse spread of 100% cruelty-free food, for the ridiculously low price of 9,900 won (on week days). Not only is the food delicious, but there are sooo many things to choose from: sushi rolls, soy meats, salads, Korean banchan, noodles made-to-order, hot soups & stews, dumplings, and even desserts. I guarantee that there is something for everyone to enjoy. Even my hardcore meat-loving, macho, male friends have enjoyed eating here! I’m also a little biased because this restaurant is walking-distance from my house! hehe.
Best Upscale/Fancy Restaurant: Zelen, in Itaewon.
The Red Bean Salad (12,000 won). I’ve been to this Bulgarian restaurant several times and everything I’ve had has been absolutely delicious. Their veg options aren’t extensive, but their salads are so unique and flavorful, I simply had to include them on this list. The ambiance is romantic with a lavish interior, and the service is also great. I think this is a wonderful pick for a fancier dining experience, and where everyone’s foodie preferences can be met.
Best Ethnic Restaurant: Everest @ Dongdaemun.
This gem of a restaurant never fails to serve up delicious Indian/Nepali dishes, that make all your taste buds come alive. My favorite things to order are the aalu motar & aalu kovi (veganized upon request). Moreover, unlike most other ethnic restaurants in Seoul that charge around 15,000 won and up, Everest’s prices are verrry reasonable with the most expensive veg*an curries maxing out at 7,000 won. The waitstaff are also always incredibly kind and attentive to any dietary needs, and the cooks are accommodating in veganizing certain dishes. I’ve been here more times than I can count, and I’ve never had a bad dining experience.
Runners up: Buddha’s Belly, Petra Palace, and Taj: Taste of India.
Best Bibimbab: This was a toughie. Personally, I think I make the best vegan bibimbab, but not everyone can try mine, so I’ll pick the best restaurant one. I’ve had plenty of delicious vegan bibimbabs, but also my fair share of dry, veggie-sparse bibimbabs that have too much gochujang in an attempt make up for its blandness, so believe me, I think I know good bibimbab when I see it.
The most memorable restaurant-bibimbab I had this year was at the tofu restaurant across from the Seoul Arts Center. I don’t even know the name of the restaurant, but I remember that the tofu bibimbab was damn geeeuuuud. Fresh veggies, huge chunks of tofu, a generous squeeze of sesame oil…. yum! If you go there, just be sure to request it without the fried egg on top.
Best Veggie Burger: the Roasted Veggie Burger at ‘Honest’ Loving Hut restaurant in Itaewon.
*This Loving Hut Branch has CLOSED* (updated Sept 25, 2011)
Okay, so there are only a few contenders in this category (Seoul needs more vegan burgers!), but IMHO, this burger wins hands-down, for taste, originality, quality of ingredients, and its healthiness. It’s definitely unique in that instead of the typical “meat” pattie, there’s a succulent pineapple ring! The other components of the burger are equally unusual, such as kabocha squash, sauteed zucchini, and a lotus root chip, but everything comes together to create something quite phenomenal and exquisite.
Best Bakery: Veggie Holic Bakery in Hongdae.
Runners up: Pain de Papa, and Paul & Paulina
Best vegan coffee shop: Cafe Mano.
Okay, so it’s not 100% vegan, but the majority of their drinks and desserts are, and you gotta give them props for that. Korea still has a ways to go when it comes to vegan-friendly cafes, so I’m thankful for Cafe Mano for holding its own amidst all the competition. Their baked goods (chocolate cake!) are great, but the best thing I’ve had there is their vegan pat-bingsu in the summer.
Runners up: So True, Harunohee, and Naya.
Best vegan dessert: ‘Honest’ Restaurant’s Organic Ice Cream Roll Cake.
Perhaps the most elegant vegan dessert you will find in Seoul. Creamy vegan ice cream rolled up in rich chocolate cake, topped with a raspberry and drizzled with strawberry syrup. How could this not win?
This is the place to go when you’re looking for certain veg essentials, such as dried lentils, beans, chickpeas, exotic spices, tortilla wraps, tahini, black salt, and also limes and cilantro. They also have plenty of baking ingredients like whole wheat flour, nuts, dried fruits, grated coconut, and pumpkin puree. They also renovated this year and expanded their store interior, so their inventory has gotten even bigger! :) Every trip to Itaewon includes a visit to the FFM!
Best online store: http://www.iherb.com/. This is a great site with many healthy-living, vegan essentials like flax seeds, chia seeds, energy bars, protein powder, supplements, and also body/skin care products. I know the company isn’t in Korea, but they have cheap international shipping, and I’ve used it several times already. Use the promo code ‘MIP268′ for $5 off your first order! :)
Learning about iHerb this year was such a thrill because now I know where I can get specific US products that I would otherwise miss, like luna bars, chai tea, and goods from Bob’s Red Mill. :)
Best vegan Korean packaged food product: Nongshim’s Vegan Ramen
This is one of the few Korean processed food items I buy. It’s not healthy, but sometimes you gotta just give the body what it craves. Even though this ramen is less spicy than most Korean ramens, it’s still mighty tasty and hits the spot after a night of crazy partying. Since it’s produced by Nongshim, a major food company, it’s also widely available and cheaper than most other vegan ramens on the market. Yay for vegan junk food!
Best animal organization: Animal Rescue Korea.
Apparently, they’re not an official NGO or charity, but ARK and its members are definitely doing their part to make the world a better place for animals. Not only do they help abandoned animals find new, temporary and permanent loving homes, they also help humans by holding occasional bake sales that include delicious vegan goodies (courtesy of vegan baker, Kia). Runner up: moonbears.org
And now onto some random, more personal favorites from this year:
Favorite vegan book I read: Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman
Favorite English vegan blog: Oh She Glows
Favorite Korean vegan blog: http://blog.naver.com/kiria200
Favorite recipe website: www.vegweb.com
Favorite cookbook: Veganomicon
Favorite place I traveled to in Korea: Gangwon-do (see here and here)
Favorite neighborhood in Seoul: Garosu-gil
So… what do you think? Did I miss a category, or do you have a different opinion? Let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts and input. :)