When you first arrive in Korea and are faced with the price of fresh fruit and veggies, you may think that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is impossible. However, I am here to tell you there is a way! This is a guide to fruit and veggies in Korea for new expats.
Reality of Fruit & Veggies in Korea
Coming to Korea was a dream that I had dreamt of for a long time. Although going out to have fun with friends and visiting famous places is thrilling, doing basic daily tasks was what I yearned for the most. Whenever I watched K-dramas I was extremely interested in basic experiences like grocery shopping. Before coming, I fantasized about just being here and having everyday experiences like that.
Plus, when you are vegetarian/vegan like I am, grocery stores are heaven. With any dietary restrictions, eating out can be difficult, so homecooked meals are the way to go no matter where you are. So yes, I was eager to delve into the shelves of every Korean supermarket possible. I just forgot about one simple detail: the price of veggies and fruits here.
Being from Brazil, I always had all types of food available throughout the year. Hence I was terrified when I went to the supermarket here in Korea for the first time. It was shocking and seemed like I was doomed to give up on your animal-free diet at first. Actually, I thought I might not be able to eat healthy at all!
However, I soon found that there were some cheap alternatives that allowed me to keep living a healthy lifestyle. So if you find yourself in a similar position, or even if you just want to eat well and fresh, I am here to show you the path!
Each Food at Its Time
First of all: understand that Korea is a seasonal country. The weather is extreme with the seasons and certain foods can’t grow year-round. As a result, we do have a variety of food available. However, you just need to look for fruit and veggies according to the season!
I could write an article solely on what is in season each month. Believe me, you can get a lot of things at good prices during their peak seasons. Needless to say, seasonal fruits, greens and veggies are not only cheaper but tastier!
To learn more about seasonal produce in Korea, Click Here for an article on Korean Spring Ingredients.
However, some vegetables are more commonly found year-round. These include mushrooms and most root veggies such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Something I found interesting is that you can buy root vegetables either dirty or clean. As you can imagine, the ones that come dirty are cheaper. I mean, we clean our vegetables before cooking them anyway, right? We might as well buy the dirty ones and pay less.
The Right Place to Buy
Speaking of price, let’s discuss sales. I prefer doing weekly shopping at bigger supermarkets, even if I need to travel a bit. They not only have a bigger variety in general, but they always display some quality vegetables at special prices. You can get bunches of seasonal greens for less than1,000 Won each and even if the price is higher, it doesn’t get too expensive. Plus, mushrooms are constantly on the shelves at a good price, no matter the season.
However, other fruit and veggies on the shelves change from week to week. I actually think it is great because you get to eat different things regularly. Personally, my favorite places to buy food are Homeplus (홈플러스) and Emart (이마트). The latter tends to have more sales on leafy greens and they also sell mixed nuts at a good price. Just don’t get Emart confused with Emart24 – they are totally different. Emart24 is a convenience store and it’s more expensive.
Moreover, keep an eye on produce sold street-side, in the underground, and at small stores run by the elders. You can always get some veggies and fruits for much cheaper than you would at the grocery store – and you will be helping small local producers!
Online Shopping Helps!
Online shopping is a great option especially when it comes to grains, spices, and basic ingredients. For example, I love falafel and soybean burgers. Although it is possible to find some processed stuff sometimes, making them at home is fun. And, I can find all the ingredients I need on sites like Coupang.
Basics like chickpea, soy, or other grain powders go a long way and can be used in diverse ways. They are extremely affordable on online platforms in Korea. As for fresh produce, I have found that online is much more expensive than in-person purchases unless you buy very large quantities. As a single-personal household, I buy fresh online and more long-lasting products online.
It is normal for us to feel lost in the beginning. Having a plant-based and healthy life may sound like a luxury or even seem impossible in Korea at first. But, as you get used to the reality of Korea’s lifestyle, you find out there are ways to do it!