Loving Hut has been a stable and reliable restaurant for vegetarians and vegans in South Korea for almost three years. Last year, another one of their restaurants opened up in Haeundae. A meeting with owner Kim Hyong Ryul (Emily) was set up to find out what it’s like to run a restaurant and to be a vegan in a country where meat is available on almost every street corner.
The restaurant, which has been in her possession since July 2010, is spotless; it’s the first thing you notice when you enter; it’s almost like a dental surgery or operation theatre. The menu has been laid out clearly and concisely with detailed Korean and English explaining what is within. All dishes, on first inspection are not expensive ranging between 7,000-10,000won, making it nowhere near as expensive as other typical Western eateries such as VIPS or Outback. And if you venture here during lunchtime, prices are reduced even further.
Emily seems cheerful and welcoming as we begin. She starts by explaining some of the difficulties she has experienced getting Koreans to try a vegan diet; “People think that it’s yucky, just cooked vegetables, so to taste the food is very important. Just EAT the food! That’s very important!”
Her little dream that she jokingly tells me is to become more popular than the local butchers. It seems a tall order, but she sees the future of vegetarianism in Korea as more of an opportunity than an uphill struggle.
It seems so obvious to her what the benefits are to being vegan. She started off because of spiritual and health reasons, but she hopes that people don’t give up meat just for health issues alone. “It’s important to appreciate all living things [when] being a vegan. If a person is a vegan [just] for health reasons they don’t really stay vegan for a long time, but on the other hand, those who think [that] for natural reasons, will fundamentally stay as vegans for the rest of their lives.”
She informs me that too often people stereotype vegan food as being tasteless and dull. “If you use fresh and organic ingredients, it will, of course taste good.”
She also continues on that people say vegan food is repetitive and uninspiring, so to combat this she tries to create a new menu every two to three months. I asked what dishes she is currently working on, and after a little persuasion she reveals a soy steak with all the trimmings and a risotto.
She also stocks a lot of frozen fake meat and she says that this is very popular amongst the ex-pat community. Within the refrigerator there is a large stock of soy ham, fake chicken, sausages and allegedly – fake squid. This is again cheaper than the food on the menu.
One of the many environmental concerns people have today is the distance food travels to your plate, but Emily makes this quite clear as to where her food originates. “Almost all the food is Korean. Sometimes [there are] things coming from Taiwan too. They have a lot of vegetarian food.”
One thing that concerned her when she started out was the amount of food from the buffet that would be left on the plate at the end. So to combat this, any remnants left and there is a 2500won ‘fine.’ This may sound a little drastic, but it works. Now she smiles that the regular customers clean their plates from top to bottom and nothing goes back to be re-used in the kitchen.
Her family, including her two sisters, have been in the business since its inception and she gladly boasts about how her niece is on a vegan diet and how she is growing at a much quicker rate than any of her classmates. She also proudly tells of teaching a kindergarten class once a month and hearing back from surprised parents and teachers about children eating all their greens.
It doesn’t matter what kind of ‘eater’ you are, but if you prefer eating delicious tasty food rather than the bland and stodgy, it’s well worth a visit to the Loving Hut.
By David Holt