When I told people I was moving to South Korea the immediate response was usually a bombardment of questions and things that could go wrong. I understand that for many people this is because they don’t understand why someone would want to move to such a different country, but it was still really frustrating! The usual thing people asked me was about food. I am vegetarian and there is a common idea that Asia is a huge meat eating country where I would starve. I too was a bit worried when I first turned up here and was taken out to a BBQ meal, but I soon discovered that being a vegetarian in Korea is not that much more difficult then being one back home.
Yeah there are meat dishes here, and Korean people are a little less educated about vegetarianism then people were back home (like my school who gave me spam once with the reasoning that it wasn’t meat but was flavor). However Korea is also a country of vegetables and tofu goodness! Not to mention there are people here who don’t eat meat, I am not the first person ever to be in this country and abstain from it.
My advice to anyone who is new to Korea…
1) gogi baygo juseyo – literally translates to without the meat please! Don’t be afraid to ask in restaurants or at dinners for people to make your food without the meat in it. I used to feel shy about it but at the end of the day the person working doesn’t think you are crazy (you’re a foreigner, they just put it down to a funny foreigner quirk) and will always comply.
2) Find out what dishes are veggie. This seems obvious but at places like kimbap naras (Korean versions of diners) where the menu is in Korean and there are no pictures, it can be easy to assume that there is nothing there for you. In reality Korean people eat a lot of tofu and vegetables dishes which are yummy and meat free. Things like bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables), kimbap (Koreas try at sushi) and tofu soups can be found in most places and are cheap.
3) Use the internet. Facebook seems to have a crazy amount of pages for foreigners living in Korea. Most cities have their own info page, and quite a few also have a veggie club. Don;t be afraid to ask other people in your area where good places are and what foods are safe. Also a great way to make friends! (excuse the cheeseyness of that).
4) Cook! Eating out is cheap and easy but gets a bit old, sometimes you just want home cooked food, to balance out the buckets of rice served with every single meal in Korea. Fruit and vegetables are easy to find, as are stocks and sauces for yummy meals. Depending on how big the city you live in is, grains and beans can be easy to find. If not there are some awesome websites like http://www.nicemarket.com and http://www.iherb.com where you can stock up on western treats.
6) Don’t forget about other foods. Indian restaurants, Mexicans ones, Korea has food besides its own. These always have veggie options and can be just good for a change.
As for the North… To be honest I am a little nervous, maybe living in a city that had an earthquake made me realise that bad shit can happen to me. But at the same time I have the attitude of rolling my eyes and laughing when the North make a threat. They are a small country who would, lets face it, be fucked if they did attack. There is no way they could ever win a war against the South now that America has become so involved. It is also comforting to know that the news in South Korea doesn’t really touch upon it, they aren’t too concerned and if Koreans wont worry then I wont either. I am much more interested in the gorgeous cherry blossoms which bloomed this week! So lets end on them shall we?