Last week I spent a couple of quick days in Seoul, South Korea exploring the Hongdae District. That’s where Hongik University is, so this area of Seoul is very modern and artsy. Walking along the main drag of the district, I sort of felt like I was in New York City. Seoul is just a quick 2 hour plane ride from Beijing. Once I cleared customs, I took an escalator straight down to the subway and hopped on. I was welcomed by snowfall when I emerged from the subway station near my hostel, which was quite magical, then it quickly turned to rain and my shoes were soaked (which was less magical).
In general, Seoul was very clean and friendly. Most of the places I went, the locals knew at least a little English, and they were very smiley and giggly. Even though I braved the intensely cold weather, it was difficult to get around and explore as much as I had hoped to. However, I enjoyed trying new foods and searching for options that were healthy and tasty. Here’s what I came up with!
My first evening in Seoul, I found an “American salad bar & grill” called Ashley’s, which actually turned out to be an upscale buffet restaurant. There was indeed a salad bar, as well as different fruits, yogurt and granola bar, pizza, tofu sushi, apple coleslaw, make-your-own noodle soup, and a section of meat dishes. Obviously, these aren’t all vegan friendly but I was able to make do and went back to the buffet like 4 times! They also had a wine bar, your basic soda options, as well as brown rice green tea and a non-alcoholic wine tea which was interesting. There was also a self-serve espresso machine, which I loved!
The next day was unbearably cold, so I decided just to hit up a 7-11 and purchase several small food items for lunch. 7-11 is everywhere in Seoul and Beijing, and I’m assuming in many other Asian cities as well.
They had a selection of familiar drinks that I could easily get back in America, so I decided to try something new. I saw this Oriental Raisin Water and gave it a try. It didn’t taste like raisins necessarily (the picture on the bottle makes it look like it comes from a berry?), I’m not quite sure how to describe it. It wasn’t too strong of a taste, barely sweet, but overall I liked it. Maybe it tasted tea-ish?
I also found this 3 pack (the 3rd one is hiding) of tiny bananas which was very exciting for me. I can easily have a banana as a bedtime snack, with my breakfast, or as an afternoon pick-me-up. It’s quick, convenient, and gives me a boost of energy. My first few days in Beijing, I pretty much survived on bananas until I was able to go to the grocery store and shop. I found a container of prepared food with white rice, kimchi, what looked to be tofu, and then some kind of meat. I figured I could eat everything except the meat (which was in a different section of the container).
My second (and last) night in Seoul I decided to be a little more adventurous. I went into a place called Paris Baguette, which is a franchise that seems popular in Seoul as well as Beijing. This was my first time inside one. The shop contained all sorts of tempting baked goods & pastries, as well as sandwiches (none vegan) and smoothies. I decided to try a fruit smoothie after the cashier confirmed they contained no milk.
Here’s my delish persimmon smoothie, although I suspect it contained processed sugars. I also bought a red bean-filled donut, which is a popular native snack here. There’s Krispy Kremes all over the city, but I wanted something local. It’s a donut filled with a sweet red-bean paste. It was very tasty!
On my way back to my hostel, I decided to hit up the local street vendors that I had been seeing along the main street. I knew I had to buy a few bungeoppang, which are fish shaped cakes filled with the same red bean paste. The cake part of the fish tasted similar to a breakfast pancake. I thought it was pretty good and they are super cheap!
A couple of vendors down, I did a double take when I saw a very old woman selling a cart full of cooked vegetables. Score! I had been craving veggies all day, so I was so happy to see these. There were some meats too, but I skipped over those. She didn’t speak any English, but she somehow communicated to me that I could pick any 3 for for 5,000 KRW (Korean won), which is equivalent to about $4.50 in USD. I chose cabbage, potatoes, and some kind of green veggie that looked like spinach. Let me tell you, these vegetables were soooo good! I could taste sesame oil in a couple of them, and the potatoes were garnished with sesame seeds. Those potatoes may be the best potatoes I’ve ever had. For real.
I was so full after eating, but managed to wash it down with some green tea.
The only reason I say vegan-ish in my title is that I’m sure the pastries I ate contained some dairy or egg product. For me personally, as long as I’m aware of what my dietary goals are and I’m aware of what I’m eating, I allow myself to compromise when necessary, especially when I’m in a foreign country with limited food options and I’m low on time and money. I was excited to get back to Beijing and to my fridge stocked with vegetables and brown rice, but I’m really glad that I experienced the food culture of another country and got to interact with the locals and enjoy their handmade foods. It’s definitely possible to stick with a vegan diet when traveling, and I hope to return to Seoul when it’s warmer to hit up some of their vegetarian restaurants!
Here’s one more photo of the city’s beautiful skyline at sunset. Thanks Seoul!