Vegetarian dishes at SM Vegetarian Restaurant in Seoul include kimbap and bulgogi. The "meat" is made of soy and wheat.

Vegetarian dishes at SM Vegetarian Restaurant in Seoul include kimbap and bulgogi. The "meat" is made of soy and wheat. (Ashley Rowland / S&S)

SEOUL — Name your favorite Korean food, and chances are it has meat in it.

Galbi. Bulgogi. Even kimchi, the spicy preserved cabbage that’s practically a symbol of the country, is usually soaked in anchovy or shrimp brine.

So when a vegetarian — or in my case, a semi-vegetarian who occasionally eats seafood — gets a chance to try Korean food without worrying about biting into a piece of meat, it’s a big deal.

I went to SM Vegetarian Restaurant on a recent Sunday afternoon with a group of expat vegetarians, and the place was packed with Koreans, monks and a handful of other Westerners. Unlike most vegetarian restaurants in Seoul — and there are several that cater to the city’s Buddhist population — this one is an all-you-can eat buffet.

The restaurant had about 20 dishes, all meat-free versions of traditional Korean foods we hadn’t been able to try: Kimbap, sushi-like rolls usually made with ham and vegetables. Bulgogi with “beef” made of soy meat. Breaded “pork” cutlets. And tteokbokki, rice cake noodles in a spicy red sauce, sold at street stalls throughout the city, usually with squares of meat mixed into the sauce.

There was a salad bar, and plenty of veggies and soups. One of my surprise favorites was lotus gruel, a slightly sweet purplish soup that tasted better than it looked.

Almost all of the food was vegan. That means it was made with no animal products — meat, milk or eggs. The “meat” was made of soy and wheat, and it looked and tasted surprisingly real. Even the lone meat eater in our group liked it.

It was an hourlong hassle to get there from Itaewon, but the food was worth it. Plan to go on a sunny spring day, when you can eat outside on the restaurant’s patio.

See previous After Hours reviews here.

SM Vegetarian Restaurant

Hours: Noon-2:30 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. A small vegetarian grocery store inside is open throughout the day.

Prices: 13,000 won buffet, tea or water included

Specialties: Vegetarian Korean food

Dress: Casual

Clientele: Vegetarians. The restaurant is run by a meditation group, but you won’t notice them aside from their free brochures inside the front door.

Location: South of the Han River in Poi-dong. Take the subway to Yangjae Station, go out exit 5 and turn right. Walk about one minute to the bus stop, and take bus 4430 and get off two stops later. There’s a Starbucks across the street. Cross the street and turn right. You’ll see the restaurant’s sign on your left. Or take a taxi from Yangjae Station to the Samhomulsan area (about 3,000 won).

Web site: None

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