Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Vegetarian in Seoul

Being a vegetarian in South Korea is not easy. At least in Japan, there is "shojin ryori" meant for the Buddhist monks. Besides, Tokyo is teeming with Indian restaurants which invariably have vegetarian food. In Seoul, pretty much all food is likely to contain fish sauce especially if it is considered good quality.

On a recent trip to Seoul, I finally had the chance to visit an Indian restaurant (on the outskirts of Seoul in Suwon), but the experience is best forgotten. The dishes we ordered were so average, I wondered if they had watered down the vegetable korma because they were running out of it. I don't know if all Indian restaurants in Seoul are this bad, or just this one was. However this time, I also had memorable vegetarian food. I got a chance to try the vegetarian set menu in a traditional Korean restaurant called "Pulhyanggi", an experience definitely worth writing about.

Pulhyanggi has several locations in Seoul and the one I went to, located in HanNam, was a short cab ride from my hotel. The restaurant is very cozy and tastefully decorated and has both Western and Korean style of seating. The menu has several set options, including one for vegetarians. The restaurant seems to be pretty well known for it's vegetarian set menu. Even though I was pretty hungry, the full page of items in front of me seemed overwhelming!

Each dish in itself was very small and very beautifully presented. Such as one slice of grilled mushroom was presented on a small plate. The waitress who was dressed in traditional clothes pointed out the item in the menu as she set it down on the table for me. Sometimes she had a rather bemused look on her face - maybe I wasn't eating the food the right way or in the right order. But I certainly enjoyed it, every last bite! So please enjoy these pics....

This one is the crepe with 9 fillings. The waitress deftly filled the 2 small crepes and rolled it up with the chop sticks for me.

These 2 soups came first - one is a pumpkin soup and the other one is a cold vinegary radish soup.

Lone slice of mushroom and bamboo shoot grilled on their own small platters! They were quite delicious.

Sauteed Mushroom with a beautiful yellow flower. Didn't eat it, it was too pretty!

Isn't this tempura so artistically done with the small ring of chili pepper for the stem?

Even though this picture got screwed by, I had to put this in because it is my favorite Korean dish - Jab Chae. Glass noodles with sauteed vegetables. Pulhyanggi's jab chae is probably the best I have had.

These are the ingredients for bi-bim bap. The waitress was quite shocked when I just started eating them on their own, but I was too full for the "bap", which is Korean for rice. They also served burnt rice water which has a very rich flavor. I beleive this came about because Koreans used to cook rice in stoneware, and to avoid wasting the burnt rice stuck to the bottom, they would pour water in to it and drink it with the meal.

Koreans do not typically eat dessert, but they always end the meal with fresh fruit. In the summer, it is most often watermelon. I am not sure of what would be served in the winter. I got a piece of pear and rice cake. The rice cake takes some getting used to, it is very chewy and not at all sweet.

There is no tipping in Korea, and the service fee is already included in the bill. The price of the meal without the 15% service fee is 55000 Korea won. Definitely worth another visit. I need to go hungrier next time!! It sure is a lot of food! Pulhyanggi's address is here:

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