A Korean BBQ meal experience is like no other. Family and friends sit around an open grill and cook and eat their pick of foods — not only is it a wonderfully social and connective way to eat, but the food is usually delicious too!
The only issue with heading to a Korean BBQ restaurant with friends or family is if you are vegetarian, and you are worried you might not be able to take part in the experience as much.
The good thing is that you do not have to sit back and watch as others have fun and enjoy good food at a Korean BBQ — as a vegetarian, you can do just the same!
What can you eat at a Korean BBQ as a vegetarian? There are many vegetarian options at a Korean BBQ, such as grilling vegetables and tofu in place of meat and enjoying one of the many vegetarian side dishes along with the vegetarian food you have grilled.
Don’t let being a vegetarian hold you back from a Korean BBQ experience. Read on to find out how you can go about ordering the right food at a Korean BBQ as a vegetarian!
What Is A Korean BBQ?
First, to understand how you can enjoy a Korean BBQ as a vegetarian, it helps to know exactly what a Korean BBQ is.
A Korean BBQ is a meal where you sit around a grill with friends or family, and grill the meat or the food you want to eat. There are sauces, sides, and other dishes served along with the grill, so you can create a whole meal out of it!
At a Korean BBQ restaurant, you would be sat at a table around a grill, and the server would bring you raw meat or vegetables to grill, as well as side dishes called banchan.
You can then cook your food at your own pace and to your preference, and enjoy it with the banchan brought to the table!
Korean BBQ is really versatile — you can order the meat, vegetables, and sides you enjoy most, then take your time cooking and enjoying it!
Ordering Guide For Korean BBQ For Vegetarians
Do you have a Korean BBQ date planned? Or maybe you’re wanting to try out the local Korean BBQ restaurant with some friends, but are worried about what to order to suit your vegetarian diet?
Read on to find out the different options you have, and what to ask for! This includes the protein you can grill, the banchan you can order, and the sauces and dips you can have.
The main thing you would want at a Korean BBQ would be protein options that you can cook on the grill. After all, that is the focal point of the experience and you would not want to sit it out!
There are quite a few protein options you can choose from, but it is a good idea to check with the Korean BBQ restaurant to see that they offer these options.
Here are some of the vegetarian protein options you can enjoy at a Korean BBQ.
1. Grilled Vegetables
Grilled vegetables are going to be one of your best options at a Korean BBQ — there are so many different options to choose from as well!
The restaurant you are at will have a selection of vegetables on offer, but some of the best options include zucchini, tomato, eggplant, onions, peppers, and so much more.
These can be grilled much the same way as cuts of meat, and they can come marinated and seasoned before grilling too, to add to the overall flavor.
Some might even come breaded or floured, such as the eggplant, which gives it more of a meaty, fuller texture.
There are also some amazing dipping sauces and spices that can be used to enhance the vegetables too. Chili powder, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic are all great to use to season vegetables for a Korean BBQ.
We mentioned vegetables already above, but mushrooms deserve their own spot, as they are a favorite served at many different types of Korean BBQ restaurants!
Some Korean BBQ restaurants will even have a plethora of mushrooms on offer, so you can try out a few different ones on the grill to enjoy a different blend of flavors and textures.
Mushrooms are meaty and flavorful, and they make for a great replacement for meat at a Korean BBQ.
Tofu is another perfect option to use in place of meat at a Korean BBQ, and like the meat that is grilled, tofu can be prepared and served in many different ways.
You can grill tofu slabs at a Korean BBQ, and these can be marinated and seasoned before being grilled. You might also find tofu skewers, which can be skewered with different vegetables, all ready to be grilled together.
Other tofu options include tofu bites, and crispy tofu, all of which can give you some good variety when you want to stay away from meat on a Korean BBQ grill.
4. Mock Meat
Mock meat, or vegetarian meat options, can also be cooked on a grill at a Korean BBQ, but once again, you need to check that the restaurant has these available.
Banchan — Side Dishes
Once you have worked out the vegetarian protein you are going to grill at the Korean BBQ, you can then start thinking about the banchan, or side dishes!
Banchan are small dishes that are served alongside a Korean BBQ that help fill out the meal more and add in different flavors and textures.
There is quite a wide range of different vegetarian banchan options, so you should not be too limited, but make sure to check the ingredients included to avoid accidentally having animal products.
Here are some of the best vegetarian banchan options to choose from:
- Seasoned Soybean Sprouts
- Oi Muchim (Cucumber Salad)
- Cucumber Kimchi
- Sigeumchi Namul (Seasoned Spinach)
- Gaji Namul (Steamed Eggplant)
- Kongnamul Muchim
- Hobak Bokkeum (Stir-Fried Zucchini)
- Oi Bokkeum (Stir-Fried Cucumbers)
- Sukju Namul (Seasoned Bean Sprouts)
- Mu Saengchae (Spicy Radish Salad)
- Doraji Namul
- Putbaechu Doenjang Muchim (Young Cabbage)
- Mu Namul (Stir-Fried Radish)
- Gamja Jorim (Glazed Potatoes)
- Gaji Bokkeum (Stir-Fried Eggplants)
- Gosari Namul (Fernbrake)
- Mu Saengchae (Sweet and Sour Radish Salad)
- Dubu Jorim (Pan-Fried Tofu)
All of these dishes should be completely vegetarian, and you should not have to miss out on any flavor at the Korean BBQ when it comes to banchan.
Once again, make sure to check with the restaurant that these are indeed free from animal products!
Bibimbap is a dish often served at a Korean BBQ, and it is served in a single bowl.
Oftentimes you add your grilled meat to the bibimbap, but as you will be having vegetarian protein, you can add your grilled vegetables, tofu, or meat substitute to complete the dish.
It is a great idea to have bibimbap at a Korean BBQ, especially if you are eating vegetarian, as the rice will surely fill you up, and the flavors are absolutely incredible. You will leave feeling wonderfully satisfied!
Just be sure to make a note with the restaurant that you are wanting vegetarian bibimbap so that they can be sure to keep any meat or animal products out of it.
Bibimbap can also be served with a fried egg on top — while this may fall within a vegetarian diet, if you follow a vegan diet, you will have to ask for this to be left out.
Sauces And Marinades
As mentioned above, you will likely be offered sauces and marinades with the food you are grilling, as well as the banchan you order.
These sauces can take Korean BBQ up to the next level, so you need to make sure that you can order some vegetarian options to enjoy with your meal.
A typical Korean BBQ marinade will have a balance of sweet and sour, and be made primarily with some soy sauce. Even when ordering vegetarian protein to grill, check to see that the marinade is vegetarian-friendly.
When looking at a marinade or sauce served at a Korean BBQ, look for the following ingredients — these are all fine to have on a vegetarian diet:
- Soy Sauce
- Brown Sugar
- Apple Puree
- Sesame Oil
- Sesame Seeds
- Green Onion
- Chili Powder
- Black Pepper
- Maple Syrup
One of the most popular sauces or pastes served at a Korean BBQ is gochujang, which is a thick and spicy paste made from glutinous rice, red chile pepper flakes, fermented soybeans, and salt.
This is usually fine for vegetarian diets, so you should be able to enjoy it without worry.
Cooking On A Hot Grill
One thing you should be wary about when attending a Korean BBQ is that you will likely be sharing the grill with others who will be grilling meat (unless everyone you are going with is vegetarian).
The grill would have been used before to cook meat items, and while it should be cleaned between each grilling session, there might be some traces of meat left behind.
While this is fine for some vegetarian diets, others might not want to grill their vegetarian protein alongside meat or where meat has been grilled before, so you could try to speak to the restaurant to try and help accommodate this.
Best Way To Feel Full At A Korean BBQ
You might be nervous that your options are limited at a Korean BBQ when you are following a vegetarian diet, but this really should not be the case.
The right Korean BBQ venue will provide you with quite a few different options when it comes to proteins served that aren’t meat, chicken, or seafood, and you should have more than enough vegetarian protein to grill.
Other than this, there should be lots of different banchan options that are vegetarian or even vegan, and these can be quite filling if you order a few.
If you still do not think this will fill you up, the next best option is to order quite a bit of rice to enjoy with your Korean BBQ.
This might sound boring at first, but you will be able to load up the rice with some delicious sauces, vegetables, and proteins you have grilled.
Being vegetarian, you should never leave a Korean BBQ feeling hungry — there should be more than enough for you to enjoy, and with all of the different flavors and tastes available, you should leave feeling happy and satisfied!
Can I Eat Korean BBQ As A Vegan?
Finding restaurants, such as a Korean BBQ, that cater to a vegetarian diet is slightly easier than finding one which caters to a strictly vegan diet, but it isn’t impossible.
When ordering Korean BBQ as a vegan, you would follow pretty much the same guidelines above as you would when ordering as a vegetarian, but you just have to keep an eye out to check there are no animal by-products included in the meals.
The proteins you grill should still be tofu, vegetables, and meat substitutes, but check to see that no egg or honey was used in the preparation or marinades of the proteins.
Another thing to keep a look out for is when ordering bibimbap, which can be completely vegan, as long as no egg is included on the top of the dish.
Many of the sauces and marinades used in the banchan and proteins can be completely vegan as well, as long as no honey is used to make the sauce, and no other animal by-products either.
More and more vegan Korean BBQ venues are popping up around the world, so you should be able to find at least one that caters to a vegan diet.
This way you can get all the benefits and flavors of a Korean BBQ, but without the meat or animal products!
You can definitely still enjoy Korean BBQ as a vegetarian, whether you are attending a restaurant venue near you, or planning a Korean BBQ at home.
There are many vegetarian-friendly substitutes you can choose from in place of meat to grill, and many of the banchan dishes are vegetarian too.
Include a good portion of rice along with your Korean BBQ, marinate or season your vegetables and tofu before grilling, order a good amount of banchan, and you will leave feeling deliciously satisfied!
If you are still nervous to order at a Korean BBQ as a vegetarian, contact the restaurant beforehand to find out all of their vegetarian options, and to find the right place for you.
Now that we’ve learned all about Korean BBQ and how to navigate it as a vegetarian or vegan, here are some related questions.
What are popular Korean vegetables?
To know what to expect at a Korean BBQ or restaurant, it helps to know which vegetables are commonly used in Korea.
Some of the most popular Korean vegetables include napa cabbage, potato, cucumber, Korean radish, sweet potato, bean sprouts, spinach, garlic, scallions, zucchini, seaweed, mushrooms, and chili peppers.
Do Korean restaurants have vegan options?
You will need to check with the restaurant itself, but most Korean restaurants will have vegan-friendly options to choose from, which will be based on rice, vegetables, and tofu.