▲ A mix of foreign and Korean diners meet regularly at restaurants such as Mul Mae Gul, above, for camaraderie and tasty vegetarian cuisine. Photo by Alex James
While Korean cuisine can certainly be “meat-centric,” for the culinary explorer there are a variety of vegetarian options available for a fine dining experience markedly different from the typical Korean palate.
On Jeju many foreigners support restaurants serving traditional “temple food” and veggie-friendly options with delicious tastes and authentic ambience.
Founded a little over a year ago by Julian Screawn, the Jeju Vegetarian Meet-Up group meets regularly to enjoy traditional Korean cuisine in local vegetarian restaurants.
“I just wanted to give people another option for meeting other than in the smoky bar scene.” says Screawn, a teacher and Korean resident of over four years. “You know, that, and for the girls of course.”
The meetings are open to all, but are primarily attended by foreigners.
What began as an intimate meeting of five or six healthy-minded friends has expanded to bimonthly meetings of anywhere from 10 to 20 people, some of whom meet for the first time when they assemble in front of Lotte Mart to carpool to the restaurant.
Rezena Spacek, an EPIK teacher who was raised as a vegetarian, enjoys the ethos of the meetings. “I just believe it’s a healthy life-style choice. I don’t care for the smell of meat or the idea of eating it, so group gatherings like this are a great way to meet like-minded people.” says Spacek who met her boyfriend Sasha Shepard at a dinner last year.
Each meeting is announced ahead of time on the Yahoo! group “Rhymes with Jeju”, the Jejulife.net forums, and on the group’s recently established Facebook group, “Jeju Vegetarian Meat-Up”.
Screawn and his culinary confidants decide on a restaurant ahead of time, make the meeting known online, and hope they can estimate a proper head count for the restaurant staff. “Today for instance,” Screawn observes at a Saturday meeting, “I told the staff of this restaurant 11 or 12 people, and it’s more like 20 when we all arrive in separate cars.”
The meetings are usually on a Saturday or Sunday and can lunch or dinner. The group meets in front of Lotte Mart in Shin-Jeju and carpools together to that day’s location. RSVPing is a great courtesy not only to assure you have a seat in a car, but also for the stress-levels of the restaurant staff.
The restaurants most frequented by the meet-ups so far have been: Yeon-Wu-Nae: Across from Halla Arboretum just up the hill from Lotte Mart. Already a popular foreigner foodstop, they serve a fantastic nok-cha (green tea) su-jey-bee, some of the best vegetable bi-bim-bap on the island, and killer kam-ja jon (potato pancakes) too. Meals run about 5,000 to 6,000 won.
Mul-Mae-Gul is about 15 minutes southwest of Jeju-si and difficult to find without the carpooling veggie diners. Recommended dish is the yeon-ip-bap, steamed rice wrapped in a lotus leaf served with delicious and generously portioned side dishes including marinated tofu, and mini veggie pancakes. They also have great nok-cha su-jey-bee. Prices range from 5,000 to 10,000 won per meal.
Gilsup Naegunae is located off of the 1136 on the northeast side of the island, not far from the Jeju Stone Park. Its featured dishes are mulberry pancakes, organic vegetable wraps, and sesame porridge. Expect to pay around 5,000 to 7,000 won for your meal.
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