Being a Vegetarian in Korea: The Costco Honeymoon begins… (Part III)

Last Updated on June 24, 2010 by Christine Kaaloa

500 35669 847 1I realize that certain honeymoon periods can arrive late. So, I take back what I  said about Daegu Costco being “Eh– I’m glad I’m a Costco (pronounced: Co-su-tu-co for your taxi cab)  member!   Don’t get me wrong, Daegu Costco didn’t grow a larger imported foods and produce sections since last I visited, so why am I changing my tune?

My transition into expat life feels more settled by month #4
And now it’s sinking in– the foods and products I’m starting to miss (no, crave !) easy accessibility towards or any accessibility at all. It’s  like that ex-boyfriend you recently broke up with and thought you’d be fine without, only to realize later,  you miss the reassurance of a past life and its comfortable habits. For me and expat translation, this meansI miss the convenient and reliable taste of good ‘ole western America culture and Costco has become my reliable go-to guy!

Being vegan or a vegetarian is an American luxury- it is…  When I moved, worked and traveled within the States, my dietary taste buds experienced only mild discomfort in finding rich substitutes to keep up my vegetarian lifestyle, outside the big city. Not only would I always pack my luggage bag with groceries, supplements and a mini-blender to get me through a month-long shoot in the  backwoods of say, Hicksville Alabama (crew people can sometimes be obsessive about their diet and health on the road!),  there was always an assurance of a western foundation. That if worse ever came to worse, the western concepts of “a fresh green salad” (or coleslaw – yech!)”, a fruit bowl, a smoothie, non-fat yogurt, a Subway restaurant or a Wal-Mart Superstore (stocking cereal, granola, juices, etc…), etc… still held a confirming nod in a middle America lexicon.

The “NO carbs, Low/NO- Fat”,  “browns, instead of whites” vegetarian diet
Yes, that was (obviously it’s changed) my diet– you can imagine how relieved I am to not to add vegan on top of it! Living in Asia, it’s very hard to say no carbs when there aren’t many easy-to-find substitutes. What do I miss otherwise? Soy chicken nuggets,  frozen veggie burgers, leafy greens,  a wide array of vegetables and fruits (that don’t call themselves tomatoes, like in Korea) , grains like lentils and couscous, hummus, split pea soups, falafel, smoothies, Fiber One bars, aloe juice, oatmeal and Greek Fayeh yogurt. Of junk foods, I crave cinnamon pita chips, sugar candies (i.e. Smarties, Jawbreakers or Jelly Beans) and homemade chocolate chip cookies!  While Costco doesn’t stock all of these things, it does give me a few alternatives to work with so I don’t feel entirely stripped.

Don’t worry, I’ll just order a salad”
That was my typical vegetarian line when going out to a non-veggie restaurant.

…what?! Not even a salad?

There’s many vegetable dish appetizers in Korean food, but a hunking bowl of fresh mixed greens is something you won’t easily find on a Korean restaurant menu (unless it’s a western restaurant). Sadly, raw greens are not considered a main dish in the average Korean diet. But when I enter Costco, voila!…

SAM 3730My Costco mixed greens! 4000W for a 230g bray (you can do your own conversion,
but take my word, it’s big). A bargain compared to the tiny pint-sized bags they might sell at Emart or HomePlus if you can find it!

Also, I just bought three more 6lbs bags frozen fruits! So what if I have a miniature refrigerator that’s a size shortly larger than a hotel refrigerator! It’s going to be a hot summer, I love smoothies and eating strawberries and blueberries at all times of the year helps me out when I’m reluctant to try the mystery fruits they have here. (BTW- blueberries haven’t been easy for me to find and fruits are expensive )

SAM 3732(Above) Approximately $14USD per bag. It sounds crazy while Costco US prices them at
approx. $8-12. Not a large markup and still decent  in comparison to Korea’s fruit costs.
(Below ) A substitution for the 5 minute meal.

SAM 3731

Not all substitutions and compromises hit that spot, but you make it work nonetheless!
What was once novelty can in time, turn into annoyance. “Why didn’t I bring tubes of Colgate or Crest toothpaste?!” is the thought I now beat myself over with, as I brush my teeth with my Korean toothpaste each morning. I would’ve never thought this would become such a big deal to me, but my teeth never feel clean and the sweet flavor of Korean paste is starting to sicken me. Okay, so Daegu Costco doesn’t stock American toothpaste either, but it has Listerine (unfortunately, a sweet flavor too, but it’s Listerine) !

SAM 3479

(Above) My Korean toothpaste and mouthwash both, leave a sugary aftertaste in my mouth. Argh!
(Below) A two-pack of giant 1.5 L bottles for 20,000W (approx $18USD)  sounds like Whoa! but between the amount of
garlic in Korean foods and how often I’ve been catching throat colds, it can be a worthwhile investment. But wow, that’s
a helluva lot of Listerine…

SAM 3734

Hand me a rope & string me to a light fixture, if I have to say Mentos candies one more time; but of the Korean options for sugar candies that’s one of the few which will  satisfy my sweet tooth affliction! So I just bought a 4lb tub of Baby Mentos! But hallelujah- I also found this-

SAM 3733(Above) A 4lbs jar of Jelly Bellys cost my around 22,000W (approx $20USD). Pricey but well worth it for me!
(Below) My 3rd box of Fiber One bars and a healthy substitute for my missed chocolate chip cookies, as well as
those unhealthy Paris Baguette bakery trips, which have me gaining my weight back!


All in all, I spent a good $150 (ouch!) on my recent trip, buying these items and more. As you know, Costco tends to sell products in bulk (in Korea Costco, these are large packages of 2); it’s ideal if you can find a partner to split the costs and packages with!  For me, reliable access to even just a handful of USA products, is still a handful of sanity and recovered identity. And that’s definitely worth a Costco membership!

Other impressive imported products I’ve seen:
Agave Nectar
Balsamic vinegar
Cheeses: Cheddar, Jarlesberg, Ricotta, Mozzerella
Fiber One bars
Free trade Brown Sugar
Healthy Trail Mix breakfast bars
Instant Quaker Oats and Oatmeal
Instant cookie or brownie mix
Jiffy Peanut Butter
If it has a Kirkland label, you might just find it in Korea. Costco and Kirkland, I suspect, are business partners.
Kotex tampons
Mixed Granola
Mixed Nuts
Macadamia Nuts
Multi-Vitamins, Vitamin C, Glucosamine Sulfate
Noni Juice
Ricotta Cheese Raviolis
Veggie sticks potato chips

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