Culinary Adjustment - My First Encounter with Korean Food
Let me begin by saying how vast and distinct the Korean culinary world can be - an aggregation of fermentations, spice, grills, and bowls of piping hot soups, often accompanied by a colourful array of side dishes. But like any vegetarian Indian who is spruced up on a palette of distinct Indian scents and flavours, when I first arrived in South Korea, it seemed a gastronomical hurdle I would need some time to vault over. Naomi, my wife, loved the change instantly, but for me, the unfamiliar odour of kimchi, a type of pickled vegetable, and barbecue grills, typical of Korean food influence, was an initial jolt.
Finding My Vegetarian Stronghold
As any of my fellow vegetarians will confirm, the challenge often is to reassure our meat-loving counter parts that vegetarian food is every bit as delicious and indulgent, if not more so. In Korea too, I found myself wading through menus at restaurants where BBQ was king, and the vegetarian options were relegated to a mere afterthought. However, I decided to meet this challenge by diving into the authentic local food markets where I found a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, rice cakes, sweet potatoes and exotic mushrooms. Korean markets are paradise for vegetarians if you know where to look.
The Game Changing Bibimbap
My first foray into Korean vegetarian cuisine resulted in me discovering a dish called Bibimbap. Now, this dish was something of a revelation. A pile of cooked vegetables, usually sitting on a bed of warm rice, with a spicy chilli pepper paste smeared all over it. It was an explosion of textures and flavours in my mouth. Even Leo, my Golden Retriever, who isn't a fan of vegetables, seemed to enjoy watching me devour this meal.
Tasting the Traditional Kimchi
I had heard of kimchi, the renowned side dish of fermented vegetables, even before setting foot on Korean soil. The traditional versions, though, consist of fish sauce, shrimp paste, or oysters. After a few restaurant fails and humorous exchanges, this led to me creating my own vegetarian version of this side dish, using soy sauce instead of fish sauce. The smell of fermenting cabbage and radish took a while to get used to, but soon grew on me and became an integral part of my meals over time.
Cooking My Own Indian Fiesta
The next hurdle, predictably, was trying to replicate the magic of Indian food in my Korean kitchen. Each of my initial attempts to recreate the familiar taste of Indian food was a culinary adventure in its own right. However, what I had first perceived as a lack of Indian spices in the market, were gradually replaced by ingenious adaptations using Korean ingredients. Ever tried mixing gochujang, a Korean chilli paste, with lentils? Trust me, it's quite a sensation. Leo once stole a taste and we spent the whole evening trying to cool his poor snout.
Embracing the Korean Tea Culture
The Koreans love their Tea. There are an array of options from traditional green teas to medicinal herbal teas. One sunny afternoon, Naomi and I discovered a small café tucked away in a bustling market street. We tasted a wide spectrum of teas including the smooth green teas, sweet persimmon teas, and the earthy Solomon's Seal tea. This experience coaxed me away from my dedicated chai-loving tendencies, and opened my eyes to the plethora of Korean teas.
Vegetarian Lifestyle Beyond Food
Korea's approach to vegetarianism extends beyond just food. The clothing, cosmetics, and even traditional entertainment often reflect respect towards other living entities, resonating with my Indian upbringing. Being a vegetarian in South Korea also symbolizes a more eco-friendly lifestyle choice, something I respect deeply. This experience not only taught me to appreciate and adapt to a different culinary culture, but also made me realize how being a vegetarian can be colorful, diverse and fulfilling, no matter where we are in the world.
Be it the aromatic Indian spices, the deliciously complex Korean flavours or the shared laughter over a family meal, food, is a universal connection we all share, regardless of where we come from. As my story demonstrates, being a vegetarian Indian in South Korea is a journey of adaptation, experimentation, and a whole lot of fun. It’s a voyage that yielded numerous delightful discoveries and strong cultural bonds, and an adventure I would graciously embark upon all over again.
I am Arjun Suryavanshi, a versatile expert in fashion and beauty, sports, and technology. My passion for these fields has led me to extensively research and develop unique insights that I love to share with my audience. I am particularly captivated by Indian life and its rich culture, which fuels my excitement in writing about Indian news and events. Through my work, I strive to showcase the beauty and diversity of India while staying up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in my areas of expertise.