The neighborhood looked unfamiliar. The pedestrians we had come across did not speak English. We ducked into a small cafe. The interior resembled the “Starbucks” look, but it definitely was not Starbucks! Once our coffees were ready, the young waitress came over and chatted us up. Her English was quite good. Turns out she had spent a couple of years in Canada, studying the English language. She told us that a lot of young Koreans participate in this program. She also shared with us that young Koreans prefer to drink coffee rather than tea.
As we talked, we mentioned that it was difficult at times to convey the message at restaurants that we are vegetarian.
The friendly, young waitress smiled, got a piece of paper and wrote carefully in Korean:
“Please don’t put any meat, fish or seafood into our food. We are vegetarians. Thank you.”
This small piece of paper turned out to be extremely helpful. Except for a couple of clams floating in a bowl of soup on one occasion, the note saved the day. Every day! Despite the fact that Koreans seem to eat a lot of meat, we had no trouble finding tasty things we could eat. Especially with the note.
Personally, I had not been very familiar with the cuisine, but quickly came to love and appreciate the flavors, textures and seasonings. I even took a class on how to make kimchi.
We also couldn’t help but notice how genuinely friendly and helpful the Korean people are. And curious about us, what we liked about their country and where we came from.
If you’ve been on the fence about South Korea, it is a super destination. Lots of history, palaces, temples, art and even a tea museum. We had a great time and hope to go back some day.