While more and more vegan and vegetarian-friendly cafes and restaurants have been opening here on Jeju Island, I still love to visit my old favorite places.
Among those: Dasoni, a traditional restaurant that takes its inspiration from Korean temple cuisine and gives you plant-based meal options in the middle of Jeju City.
Even before going vegan (quite abruptly nearly two years ago) Dasoni was one of my favorite restaurants due to the atmosphere, traditional interior, and - of course! - the delicious food!
Traditional Korean Cuisine: Vegan-Friendly Guide to Jeju Island
Dasoni in Jeju City serves traditional Korean meals with a focus on stews, porridge and a variety of side-dishes.
Compared to Jayeoneuro, the meals are a bit heartier and very filling!
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Dasoni can be a bit hard to locate. Look for a big yellow house next to the (mostly empty) river bed in Jeju City. The entrance is marked with a stone statue and the traditional Jeju porch: A barrier of three wooden pillars blocking the way if the restaurant is closed. (Address, opening hours, and contact information at the bottom of this post!)
Follow the short path leading between trees and traditional pottery (called Hangari, in which side-dishes, kimchi, and soy sauce are fermented and stored) to enter the restaurant itself.
The traditional Korean interior and decor fit with the traditional cuisine served at Dasoni.
The customers were surprisingly varied in age and style, though, from young tourists to Jeju locals; I even spotted a monk with some of her friends sharing a meal.
Veganism isn't "trendy" (yet?) in South Korea. While a lot of modern bakeries and cafes with a focus on vegan dishes have opened in recent years, most people see veganism as some strange weight-loss regime in the vein of "eat only one sweet potato per day for a week" or the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk. I find it interesting to then see the clients at vegan or vegetarian places and how they reflect shifts in that consciousness.
You can discover Jeju crafts and customs by observing your surroundings in Dasoni: There are pieces of traditional wood crafts everywhere, as well as pottery, tea sets, the typical persimmon-died textiles, and paper doors. Entire walls are covered in calligraphy, too!
The large windows that were added in place of two of the dining room's walls and the garden outside make it seem like you're eating in the middle of nature instead of Jeju city.
The interior is a charming combination of rustic tradition and playful decorations, with a peaceful atmosphere to relax after a long day of running errands or sightseeing.
Even the menu card is painted on traditional paper.
The brush writing might be hard to read even if you know a bit of Hangeul, but the staff will bring an English menu if necessary, too.
As Dasoni is a vegetarian, temple-food inspired restaurant, here is one thing to keep in mind for vegans:
Tell them that you're vegan to get the radish-based broth instead of the anchovy one! (Because yes, the small dried fish don't seem to count as "not vegetarian" in most restaurants...)
How to say "Vegan" in Korean: Chaesik, 채식, is what you'll have to mention to the staff.
Korean vocabulary doesn't have an exact word for the different English versions like vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian and so on. Chaesik literally means "Plant Meal" and encompasses all of the above, so you might want to clarify in other restaurants. For Dasoni, mentioning that you prefer "Chaesik" is enough, but I've collected a couple useful phrases and words at the bottom of this post to make your vegetarian or vegan meal ordering in Korea easier.
Only a few dishes come with broth, anyway, but make sure to mention it all the same as side-dishes are bound to change with the seasons.
The traditional menu card at Dasoni
Meal prices range from 7000 to 10000 Won. The two priciest items are the Lotus Leaf Rice (far right) and the Tottorimuk set that both come with a slightly larger variety of side dishes.
When I last visited, the only dish containing fish-based broth was the fourth from the right, the Memil (buckwheat) Kalguksu (Knife-cut noodles). I've had them with the Doraji (a kind of raddish) based soup instead.
Sesame Porridge Sujebi and Lotus Leaf Rice
- with all the accompanying dishes like Kimchi, pickled radish, and namul.
Sujebi are small pieces of cooked dough. They always remind me of the Swiss dish called "Spaetzli" that my grandmother still makes by hand, too! The Swiss version is made with egg, so I'll go with the Korean Sujebi instead. ;)
Namul can mean any leafy green. From spinach to Kohlrabi leaves (and plants I've never even heard of before coming to Korea!), these are usually boiled and served with a bit of soy sauce as dressing.
We ordered meals that we'd be hard-pressed to make on our own, with complicated and time-consuming cooking methods or hard to find ingredients.
Doesn't the lotus leaf look pretty?
Rice steamed in lotus has a unique scent and very moist texture - sweet and savory at the same time.
Like opening a present...
The rice was enriched with black wild rice, Korean dates (Jujube), pine nuts, ginko nuts, and of course the delicate scent of lotus.
Vegan Korean Pancakes "Jeon"
After eating just one bite of these small Jeon (savory pancakes), I went to ask the lady that served our food if those were vegan or not. Jeon can be prepared both with or without eggs depending on the cook and variation, and these were so incredibly crunchy and chewy that I couldn't quite believe my luck when she confirmed that they were egg-free! Pan-fried to perfection, they taste especially delicious when dipped in the accompanying soy sauce.
I'm never quite happy with the translation of "Jeon" - pancakes to me mean the sweet American version. Here, they're always savory and are fried in a lot of oil until they're crispy.
If you're a vegan or vegetarian traveling around Korea, you can't live without Bibimbap!
Dasoni's Bibimbap changes ingredients depending on the time of the year and what local produce is in season. Steamed veggies, mushrooms, fresh leafy greens, crunchy seaweed, and a handful of sprouts made for a delicious mixture.
Dasoni doesn't go for spicy results, so their Bibimjang (sauce) is less heavy on the peppers than other places.
Perfect to warm up on a cold day: The Kalguksu in a sesame based broth.
Sesame seed broth is hard to get right at home and Kalguksu are a piece of work to prepare, too, which gave the meal a sense of luxury.
"Guksu" refers to noodles and "Kal" means knife, alluding to how these are prepared by rolling out the dough thinly, then folding it several times before cutting through all the layers with a knife. I've made Kalguksu at home but mine tend to get a bit messy and sticky, so I'm always happy to get them at a restaurant!
The Kalguksu at Dasoni are made from buckwheat flour and the whole meal is very filling, so maybe only order this one when you're truly hungry! We like to share it, combined with another, lighter meal like Bibimbap.
As with most traditional restaurants that are vegetarian, it's always a safer choice to ask if a dish really is vegan or not.
As "ethical" veganism isn't a known player in most food establishments, vegetarian dishes might contain fish sauce or broth. If you're not in a cafe or restaurant with clearly labeled food or in an authentic temple cuisine restaurant, it never hurts to ask.
I do have a couple restaurant guides and reviews for vegans in Korea, though!
While some of the staff here understand English and you might get through with just "vegetarian" or "vegan", I've compiled a little list you might find helpful.
Here in Dasoni, for the broth, you might say something simple like:
Joneun Chaesikman haeyo. Saengseon motmeogeoyo. 저는 채식만 해요. 생선 못먹어요.
Motmeogeoyo actually means that you CAN'T eat something but I like using it over the more laid-back "Anmeogeoyo" that could be interpreted as you just not caring to have fish today in particular.
The "Man" behind Chaesik indicates that you ONLY eat vegan food - it's a nice extra clarification because I've encountered Koreans that thought me doing "Chaesik" means I just try to eat a lot of vegetables for diet/health reasons.
If you visit a restaurant with Bibimbap - even if it's vegetable bibimbap - you can ask for no egg to be added on top by saying: Gyeran bbae juseyo 계란 빼주세요.
Bbae Juseyo ~빼주세요. ("Please Remove") of course only works in dishes that aren't mixed before serving or that come without meat-based broths.
Meat: Gogi 고기
Fish: Saengseon 생선
Seafood: Haesanmul 해산물
Milk: Uyu (Dairy: Yujepum) 우유 / 유제품
Egg: Gyeran 계란
Honey: Ggul 꿀
Add "Motmeogeoyo" or "Anmeogeoyo" after those to say that you don't eat them.
I hope this little list is helpful for your vegan/vegetarian traveling in Korea!
다소니 DASONI - traditional vegan-friendly Korean restaurant on Jeju Island:
Opening Hours: Every day from 11am til 8pm (though those seem to have changed lately to 9am til 9pm?) - closed on the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
I hope this little guide to one of my favorite vegan-friendly restaurants in Jeju City was helpful and made you hungry! :)
More Jeju and Korea travel tips:
- Winter on Jeju: My favorite things to do!
- A lazy day on Jeju Island: Hallasan & Cafe Hopping
- Discover Seoul: A weekend guide to arts & shopping in Hongdae
- Hiking around Jeju Island: An Olle Gil Guide