Vegetarian delights in Korea

Vegetarian delights in Korea

Sandeep Narang

If you are a traveller packaged in a group tour, your travel agent will certainly fix up the dinners for you at an Indian restaurant. And there are plenty of them! Seoul ranks eighth in the top 25 global cities, so it does not come as a surprise that a quick search on TripAdvisor nets 106 Indian restau-rants with ubiquitous names –  Taj, Ganga, Om, Bombay Grill, New Delhi, Shanti …  with the Jyoti restaurant (www. jyotifood.com), near Sinchon station being ranked #12 of 12,969 listed restaurants.

If you are yearning for that Naan, or missing your post- meal papad, Seoul has it all. And it will all be below $25 per person (probably with a beer thrown in). Almost all Indian restaurants serve North Indian or Punjabi food. Most of them have multiple branches, so check out the one closest to your hotel. Chances are wherever you might be in Seoul, you will not be a few blocks away from Indian food. The Indian res taurants are run either by a Nepali, or a Pakistani capitalising on the brand name India. Some are run by Indians.

Here’s your daal-roti check area-wise in Seoul:

Gangnam: Ganga Gangnam (ganga.co.kr), Luna Asia, Durga

Itaewon: Agra Indian Dining Restaurant, Ashoka and Chakra (chakra.co.kr) — serves South Indian food too.

Jongno-gu: Durga (durga.co.kr) , Himalayan (hirnaloyanrest. corn) — yes, you have to walk up three floors, Taj Palace (tajpalace.co.kr), Om (omfood.kr)

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Sinchon: Namaste (narnasterestaurant. co.kr), Manokamna, Amma

Other: Shanti (shanti , Taj (taj.co.kr) , Everest(everes corn)

Kimchi

Kimchi is Korea’s national dish. The Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul has documented 187 varieties of kimchi. Some kimchi facts googled:

  • During South Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the government requested American help to ensure that South Korean troops, reportedly “desperate” for the food, could obtain it in the field; South Korean President Park Chung-hee told US President Lyndon B Johnson that kimchi was “vitally important to the morale of Korean troops.”
  • Kimchi was sent to space on board Soyuz TMA-12 with Yi So-yeon after a multi- million dollar research effort to kill the bacteria and lessen the odour without affecting taste.
  • South Koreans consume 40 pounds (18 kg) of kimchi per person annually, and many credit their industrious energy, and its impact on their nation’s rapid economic growth, in part to eating the dish.
  • Kimchi is made of various vegetables and contains a high concentration of dietary fibre while being low in calories. One serving also provides over 50 per cent of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C and carotene.

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  • Health magazine named kimchi in its list of top five World’s Healthiest Foods’ for being rich in vita mins, aiding digestion and even possibly reducing cancer growth.
  • A study conducted by the Seoul National University found that chicken infected with the H5N1 virus recovered after eating food containing bacteria found in kimchi.

We got Kimchi with every meal, and sometimes we did not even realise it was kimchi!

Jeoneun chaeshikjooeeja imnida (I’m a vegetarian)

Coming to Korea as a vegetarian is a little disconcerting, the concept is quite foreign to most Koreans. But, relax. Indian food is not a problem; there are plenty of vegetarian dishes in Indian restaurants: aloo gobi, dal bukhara, palak paneer sarnosa, mango lassi…. But if you are one of those who wouldn’t touch a diner that serves meat even with a barge pole, then you have a serious issue.

Temple Food

A highlight of my visit to Seoul was a dinner hosted by RI Director Sangkoo Yun and his gracious wife, Eun Sun a Buddhist temple meal at the Barn Gongyang. Korean temple food is a 1,700 years old tradition to a Buddhist monk, eating is more than enjoying good taste and nutrition; it is also a process of seeking the truth. The food is distinguished by the philosophy that all living things depend on each other for existence. Non-veg ingredients are prohibited, and also banned are pungent vegetables green onions, garlic and chives. Temple food is nature- friendly, healthy, simple and light, bringing out the natural flavour of the ingredients. The grand- daddy of temple food is Sanchon, a decades-old mainstay of Seoul’s tradition-focused Insadong neighbourhood — a must-do vegetarian gastro nomical experience.

Barn Gongyang is operated by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Located on the fifth floor of the landmark Templestay Information Centre across the Jogyesa Temple, the place offers the urban diner a superb chance to experience first class Buddhist temple food without having to trek to a temple on some distant mountainside. The decor is appropriately Zen, and if you’re lucky you may get to sit in the Korean-style floor sitting section. The food is 100 percent vegetarian. Prices: $20 —$40. Getting there: Exit 2, Jonggak Station, Line 1. Walk 70m to Jogyesa Temple. The Temple Stay Information Centre is across the street.

There are plenty of temple food spots in Seoul (you may even consider temple stay options for lodging).

Check out the website http://www.happycow.net for veg restaurant options in Seoul or Loving Hut (www.lovinghut.kr), the international chain of vegan restaurants opened by followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai. Oh Se Gae Hyang in Insadong; PLANT in Itaewon; So True in Gangnam-gu and Veggie Holic Bakery (wwwveggieholic.co.kr) are few more. The Store Sajik-dong in Jongno-gu serves only vegetarian and vegan Tibetan and Indian style curries and dosa and chai including soy milk options.

If this does not help there are plenty of fruits available or look at opening a Haldiram in Seoul— great business opportu nity there. And, of course come loaded with plenty of theplas, acchar khakara, bhujia, burfi — I will be looking out for you.

At the Seoul Promotion meeting the issue about avail ability of vegetarian Indian food at the venue, Kintex was discussed at large. The Korean Host Organising Committee has assured that there will be Indian food aplenty, not only for the 4,000 targeted Indian delegates, but also for delegates from other countries who might go in for Indian food.

(The writer is D 3250 PDG and Regional Convention Promotion Coordinator.)

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