Vegetarian restaurants, Jeju, South Korea
One of the first Korean expressions that my Canadian vegan friend learned to say when she came to Jeju Island was ‘Gogi Bbaego’ (고기 빼고). Translation: “take out the meat.” Being almost a strict vegetarian (she sometimes chooses to eat eggs), she had to be wary whenever she went to a new restaurant. She consequently perfected the art of saying it just like a native speaker with the right amount of nuance and emphasis because she had to say it so many times. The rest of her Korean was far from perfect, but I have to concede that she could say just this without any accent whatsoever by the time she left Jeju.
As we can see from the above example, it’s notoriously hard to find good restaurants that serve strictly veggies in this land of a seemingly endless array of restaurants that cater to only omnivorous eaters. Although I am not a full vegan by any means, I still find pleasure in discovering these veggie getaways now and then. Believe me when I say that they are hard to find, but they are certainly around- literally tucked in the nooks and crannies of not so often ventured parts of the island. So come and take a quick tour with me around the island for those few elusive havens of veggie paradise. I say “elusive” because some of these places are really difficult to find and hard to get to without a car and because most of the staff do not speak English, nor do they offer any menus in English.
The most well-known and accessible:
Yeon Wu Nae: Located just across the street from the Halla Arboretum, they offer a variety of veggie fares at relatively low prices. The food includes vegetable mixed rice, potato pancakes, green tea wild sesame sujaebi (flour dough dumplings), mugwort pancakes, and seasoned acorn muk (jelly).
Price range: 6,000 to 13,000 won
The Shinjeju Grand Hotel Well-Being Buffet: Offering freshly baked buns to die for with a well-stocked salad bar, this has to be one of the easiest places to be for vegetarians to pig out. However, it is only offered during lunch hours between 12:00 to 3:00 pm everyday. It’s highly recommended for lazy brunches on weekends, and the people here do speak English.
Price: 8500 won/person
☎: 747-4900 (ext. 237)
The least well-known and hardest to get to:
Grimi Pension: Suffice it to say that every time I go there, I get lost. However, when you get there, the food and the beverages are worth it. Be aware, however, that they only accept reservations a day or two in advance for set meals and will not serve you if you show up without warning because the meals are usually only for the guests who stay in the pension. The couple who owns the pension grow their own organic vegetables in their backyard and serve three-course meals. Be sure to ask for a vegetarian style meal when you make the reservation. (The owner does not speak English at all, so you are advised to ask for help from a friend who speaks Korean.) The meal serves at least 3 people. Be prepared to be stuffed, and don’t miss out on the yummy homemade fruit and cereal yogurt for dessert.
Price range: 10,000 to 20,000 won.
☎: 799-8102, 011-9940-5658 Website: http://www.xn--hq1bs4oznjsna99a.kr/.
Directions: Take the 1132 West from the airport. At the 1135 (also known as Pyunghwa-ro), take a left. You have to go through a series of smaller roads which do not have names before you get there. Please refer to the map for more detailed directions.
The most quintessential temple style restaurant:
Gilsup Nageunae: The name literally means ‘roadside traveler’ and is quite in the middle of nowhere. Located off the 1137 on the northeast side of the island, the place is run by an ex-nun whose tranquility, along with the appropriate music, is enough to make you feel as if you have stepped into a Zen temple. Your special choices here include organic vegetable wraps, mulberry pancakes and wild sesame porridge among other veggie selections on the menu.
☎: 782-5971, 019-9761-5970
The most authentic off the beaten path temple food restaurant:
Mulmaegol: At first glance, you would not even think that it is a restaurant. It looks like an ordinary house with big calligraphy signs. Once you go inside, you will step into a whole different world. With tastefully decorated famous ‘galot’ (persimmon dyed) curtains and cushions to set the mood, this is by far the best temple food I’ve ever tasted on the island. I recommend the ‘yeonipbap’ (연잎밥) which which consists of steamed glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaves that is served with a variety of side dishes, including tofu sprinkled with cilantro, mushrooms, and fermented radish leaves. The dessert, which is included in the meal, is a Jeju traditional yogurt called ‘shindari’ (쉰다리). No MSG or chemicals are included in any of the meals, and the owner is renowned for teaching traditional vegetarian temple cooking classes from time to time.
Price: 7000 won/person
☎: 713-5486, 019-696-5486
Directions: From the Yeon Wu Nae restaurant, go south on the 1139 until you come to the first freeway intersection. Take a right towards Aewol (애월). Stay on the road for about 15 to 20 minutes until you see a temple on the mountain towards your left. Take a sharp right. It’s the first house on your right. (See picture.)