Jeoksubang is the easiest to find among the four Seoul vegetarian eateries we featured as it is located nearest to a Metro station (Dongguk). However, it is off the usual tourist path. Nevertheless it is just two Metro stops away from Myeong-dong which is famous for selling cosmetics.
The building that houses Jeoksubang is also the Headquarter of the Fo Guan Shan Buddhism Sect from Taiwan. As you entered the building, you find a traditional Buddhist shrine on the first floor. The eatery is situated at the basement. The nuns are foreigners who are posted to the Seoul shrine as missionaries and speak fluent Mandarin. Surprisingly, the Korean eatery assistants can also speak fluent Mandarin so there is no language barrier for us.
When you stepped out of the stairwell into the eatery, you will be greeted by Buddhist chantings. The restaurant is clean, well lit and has spacious table layout. However, when we were there on two separate occasions, we were their only customers. Nevertheless I do not think that the shrine is operating the eatery for profit but rather to provide convenience for travelling vegetarians to Seoul. Also, it most likely serves as the main kitchen for the shrine.
At first glance of the menu, one may be mistaken that Jeoksubang serves a variety of Western, Chinese and Korean cuisine. However, on further inquiries, the chef confirmed that the spaghetti, baked rice and curry rice were not available for order. Nevertheless, if you are a Singaporean, Taiwanese or Malaysian who are used to eating hot cooked food and tired of the standard Korean cuisine, this is the place to come to get your sanity back.
We like the 炸酱面 (mixed sauce noodles) sauce and noodles. The sauce seem to be based on vegetarian soy sauce which accounts for its black colour. We are surprised to find diced potatoes (instead of mock meat) which replaced the traditional ground pork and complemented the noodles quite well.
酸辣面 (sour and spicy noodles) is essentially Korean Ramen with cabbage, sliced cucumber, carrot and mock fishball. The soup tasted a little like the sour and spicy Tom Yam.
The vegetarian dumplings (煎饺） is really a hidden gem of Jeoksubang. The dumplings are fried just right and taste really superb with its great fillings which include mushroom, mock ham and cabbage. This is one of the best vegetarian dumplings I’ve eaten and it’s surprising that we can find such good dumplings in the middle of Seoul no less!
This dish is called 翡翠炒饭 or translated loosely as Emerald Fried Rice. The emerald colour comes from the diced vegetables blended with the pearl rice. The fried rice is lightly flavoured so it is best that you eat the rice with the kimchi.
One usually associates 麻婆豆腐 (mapo tofu/spicy beancurd) as spicy and hot. This is not the case for Jeoksubang’s version which makes it great for anyone to enjoy. Also, the spicy beancurd has great wok taste. With a hearty portion of the spicy beancurd and rice, this is really value for money.
중구 장충동2가 188-6 불광산사 지하 1층, 서울특별시, 100-855
Operating Hours: Mon to Sat 12pm – 7pm. Last order is at 6.30pm.
How to get there:
1. Take the Metro train to Dongguk University Station (on Line 3)
2. Get out of the station from Exit 2
3. Follow the route indicated on the google map above. It is a short 3 minute walk.
If you have grown weary of Korean vegetarian food, Jeoksubang provides a much needed respite for you. The menu may be limited but should be enough for a short Seoul stay. The most important aspect at this eatery is that the food are cooked on the spot and served hot to you! One point to note is that the restaurant will close at 7pm sharp so you need to arrive and order your food by 6.30pm. Also, your food will take a while to arrive thus this is not the place if you want something fast in a hurry. Even if you absolutely adore Korean vegetarian food, you should come here to try the fried dumplings.