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Nov 30, 2009 12:12 PM

Any Korean vegan recs?

I have a vegan sister who will be visiting for the holidays and am looking for recommendations for a vegan-friendly Korean restaurant. By "vegan-friendly," I mean that they have a decent variety of vegan dishes -- not just, say, bibimbap. They can also serve dishes with meat, but I would exclude any restaurant that specializes in meat, such as BBQ places, chicken places or that goat restaurant on Vermont for that matter. Ideal location would be Koreatown but I'm flexible on that. Thanks.

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  1. korean vegan?? isn't that an oxymoron....almost everything contains some meat or fish product...many fermented banchan have oysters or oyster sauce, all soups/stews are make with anchovy,chicken, or beef broth. The only things I can think of are dongchimi gooksu at Corner place and porridge at bon juk or mountain.

    8 Replies
    1. re: peppermonkey

      It exists -- see Hangawi in NYC -- but not in LA, so far as I know.

      1. re: peppermonkey

        peppermonkey will definitely defriend me after seeing this, but I'm a Korean vegan, so it's not necessarily an oxymoron.

        In Seoul, there are some awesome vegan restaurants. But the monkey is right, at least in L.A. Most everything has some form of fermented fish product/meat broth/etc. the monkey is also right in saying that bibimbap is the safest, as long as you specify no egg and no meat. Try getting dolsot bibimbap, so that at least you could get the pleasure of having your rice sizzle in a stone bowl before you eat it.

        If it were summer, I would tell you to go get some noodles in soymilk. There's this place in OC called Hangari Noodle House that does a good version with rich and creamy soymilk and almost handmade noodles. Or at least they used to make a good version. Haven't been there in a while.

        Actually, I've had semi-decent meals at Korean barbecue joints, believe it or not. Well, maybe I'm just saying that to make myself feel better. For instance, at a Shik Do Rak outing, I stuffed myself with rice, rice noodle wrappers, and that shredded scallion/lettuce mixture and I think some seaweedy banchan.

        Another idea is to go to one of the all-you-can-eat buffets, though frankly I say that out of desperation.

        Finally, there IS a guy who makes vegan Korean food, but he is only found at the Hollywood Farmers Market on Sundays and also the Pasadena farmers market. The stand is called Dave's Gourmet Korean Food. I haven't tried the food because I have to go to church that day, so I can't tell you if it's good or not, but it has gotten good reviews on Yelp. That said, from the reviews, it doesn't sound *exactly" like the Korean food I know, but I'll eat anything if I'm desperate enough. Sound like a ringing endorsement?

        Park's BBQ actually has a big variety of banchan, but I can't remember if any of it is vegan. There's gotta be something.

        1. re: choctastic

          I seem to recall some vegan stuff among the banchan at Park's -- spinach and bean sprouts off the top of my head. Also, their bbq'ed mushrooms are delicious.

          1. re: choctastic

            Thanks, this is actually very helpful. Also, do you know whether any of the tofu places can prepare soon dubu with a vegetable broth?

            1. re: houndofmusic

              I have asked many times and gotten the same answer every time: no, it's meat-based broth, usually beef. However, I would love to hear it if there's a restaurant in town that has changed its tune. I highly doubt that one exists though, because most people want beef or seafood broth. I'll be honest. It tastes better that way.

            2. re: choctastic

              actually have a friend who's a korean vegan but she's just seem more coherent and you're a food lover which makes me even more confused??? I"m not even talking about the meats. But growing up with all those wonderful tangs and chigaes and gooks, banchan, and kimchi's. It would be like abandoning my soul.

              1. re: peppermonkey

                Yeah, it can be hard. However, I recently learned that Seoul hosted a World Vegan Day celebration, so maybe there will be more vegetarian leanings in the Korean future.

                That said, sometimes I do have lapses...being a reformed food crazy can be difficult.

              2. re: choctastic

                just wanted to note that you can also find dave's korean vegan stand at the silver lake farmers' market on saturdays. i love their stuff!

            3. I am vegan outside the house (I eat eggs at home, but otherwise vegan), and was completely vegan for about 16 years. I have gone to a few Korean places in LA with (I think) Ok success, but you can never be completely sure. As a_and_w mentions, Hangawi and Franchia in NY are probably the only veg*n Korean restaurants in the US. Only ones I know about anyway. The food there is great (though expensive), but I think of it more as a Korean equivalent of shojin ryori (Japanese Buddhist temple cuisine) than normal Korean food. Someone who knows better feel free to correct me on this.

              A lot of the panchan will *usually* be Ok, but often it's hard to get a straight answer about whether there's fish sauce or other fish-derived ingredients in certain items. Usually japchae will be Ok, I think. Kimchi is a little dicier - sometimes made without fish sauce or anchovy, but often made with it.

              Vegetable bibimbap is usually a safe bet (make sure to ask for no egg). I've gotten Soon tofu that *supposedly* was made without fish or meat stock at a couple of places (Tofuya on Sawtelle, and some place in the South Bay that I can't remember the name of). I've also had the soy noodle thing:
              (I think the normal handmade noodles have egg, so I had the yam flour noodles instead).

              I'm guessing that you might have slightly more luck at an upscale place like Park's or Gyenari, though Park's is out because of the no-bbq thing.

              My gf posted a bit about a visit to Park on her site:

              I've gone to another kbbq place that's a little more down-home, and managed to get some stuff to eat there also, but I don't remember the name at the moment.

              I personally will eat at Korean places and try my best to ask the right questions... but someone who is a strict vegan would be advised to exercise caution at any non-vegetarian Korean place, especially if you are there without someone who speaks Korean.

              Anyway, to the best of my knowledge, there aren't any places with more than one or two dishes without meat, eggs or fish, but I'd be happy to be proved wrong & find out about some other options.

              3 Replies
              1. re: will47

                Yes, Korean and Japanese temple cuisines seem pretty similar. Here's a fascinating blog entry I found:


                A Korean Buddhist temple may actually be the OP's best bet. Are there any in LA?

                1. re: will47

                  I'm almost afraid to ask . . . was the vegetarian soon dubu at Tofu-Ya any good? I haven't been there in a while but I pass by there a lot and have thought about stopping in again.

                  1. re: houndofmusic

                    I don't claim to be an expert; I haven't had it many other places. But to me, it's tasty and comforting, and they can make it pretty spicy if you ask. It's got a lot of mushrooms in it. Whether they are actually making it without fish or meat broth, I can't say; never caused me any stomach problems, though.