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Nov 17, 2011 09:20 PM

vegetarian food in downtown koreatown!

i walked into a little homestyle korean restaurant today called imonay korean restaurant at the corner of manning and bloor, and lo and behold, i found that they had a big menu on the wall full of vegetarian options. they are traditionally non-veg dishes that they can make veg versions of. the woman who was serving me (i think she may own the place too) told me that they used to make the stocks (for soups and stews) with meat but now they don't, so there are options for us vegetarians! they also have noodles, bi bim bap, dumplings, etc.

this place also has many meat dishes, of course, and meat versions of these dishes.

the very friendly woman seated me and immediately brought me some barley tea. then out came a ton of very good vegetable sides (banchan), including kimchee, of course. i tried the kong biji jigae (ground soybean stew) which was very tasty. it came with purple rice and some spicy sauces to pour over top of the stew (probably to make it spicy to taste). all this was only $8 total + i left a tip.

thought i would share because i know it's not that easy to find these dishes without meat or fish in them.. so i'm excited to go back and eventually try them all!

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  1. imonay is great. i've had the pork bone soup & dolsot bibimbap, and thought both were well done and a very good value (esp. considering the banchan). very friendly vibe to boot.

    1. Thanks! It's hard to believe you can get full vegetarian meals at a Korean restaurant! :)

      5 Replies
      1. re: Pincus

        Not at all hard to get a full vegetarian meal at a Korean restaurant.

        If you get the Bibimbap, you can omit the fried egg and the beef they usually get you (I often ask for slices of tofu instead) and the dish is vegan.

        The kong biji that helenhelen talked about is vegan too. As a stew, it's great for a cold day (kong biji jigae) and in the summer time, some Korean restaurants also offer kong guksu (ground soybean cold soup with noodles) which is also vegan.

        Korean food is very veg-friendly. The kimchi often is made of fish sauce so you may have to omit that, and also you may have to watch out for stews as they are traditionally made with either seafood or beef broth. But you can eat very well as a vegan or vegetarian with Korean food.

        1. re: looosia

          Good point. But most menus in Korean restaurants aren't set up to prominently display these options.

          1. re: looosia

            i was under the impression that meat or fish based stock is used to make the stews and soups though? are the regular versions of these dishes really vegan?

            1. re: helenhelen

              Well, as I wrote, the stews are traditionally made with seafood or beef broth. But I know that kong biji is usually not, at least that's the way I've seen it being made. You can always double check but the way it was made at home when I was a kid was not with meat broth.

              Here's a recipe I found for kong biji:

              It uses anchovy and pork as ingredients (I've seen it made it made this way too) but the broth, as I had remembered, is made with kelp, a form of seaweed. But I've had this dish in restaurants without the bits of meat added. But again, you may want to double check since there's always variations of the way any recipe is made.

              1. re: looosia

                i saw a pic of kongguksu and really want to try it.. can you tell me where i can get that in toronto, preferably downtown? thanks!

        2. Usually my posts on this subject get deleted, but I'll point out again that "vegetarian" typically does not apply to Korean food, well all non-buddist asian food. Do you like kimchi? Then I hope you like dried seafood / shrimp because 99% of kimchi is made with it. Most "vegetarian" soup broths are made with bonito as a base (especially Miso soup, which is served at Korean and Japanese restaurants).

          In my experience, the only place you can rely on being vegetarian for Korean food is Buk Chang Dong, since their tofu soup does not use chicken stock whereas many places do. And I've asked many times and they say that it's vegetarian and does not have fish in it. Do I trust them 100%? Heck no. but's close enough.

          That being said, there's a 100% vegetarian korean restaurant in NYC that won Zagat's awards in 2012. Only $19 for Soon Dobu and $16 for bibimbap! Good deal.... LOL. At least you know there won't be any dried seafood in their kimchi.

          1 Reply
          1. re: trane

            imonay has a separate vegetarian menu so i am going to trust that it really is vegetarian. i'ved asked and they really are trying to cater.. they make their stocks without fish or meat if you request the veg version. they have a menu that actually says "vegetarian menu" on their wall, and everything that is veg is listed there. it's not just trying to pick and choose things that you think are veg from a menu. like you said, "Do I trust them 100%? Heck no. but's close enough." their kimchi is kind of bland as well and so i don't think it has fish sauce or anything in it.. there isn't that umami quality that fish or shrimp brings to the kimchi (and i know fish sauce since i am vietnamese and spent 21 or so years of my life eating the stuff in pretty much everything.. i can sense it a mile away!).

            it's not hard to make some korean dishes vegetarian.. you can get bibimbap and japchae without the beef, and stews are easy to make vegetarian too because they are all cooked separately in those little stone pots when you order them.. they just have to use a veg stock (dried mushrooms &/or seaweed are an easy way to make a flavourful broth very quickly without the fish), or water and then flavour it with whatever ingredients.

            i have also asked at buk chang dong and that is why i frequent there as well. do you know of any other places that serve soon dubu (or any other stew) without using meat/fish stock in koreatown? i wouldn't mind trying somewhere else sometime, if it's possible! what about tofu village? or ka chi?