This year I attended the Korean Harvest Festival at Mel Lastman Square in North York.
I had been looking forward to the Korean Harvest Festival for months, and it was going to be my first time attending this event. I decided to try my best to find vegan food there, and I was pretty happy with how things went.
I went to the festival on the Friday and the Sunday, and had a great time on both days. I was able to find some vegan food to eat, and the entertainment was great!
Here are some things that I ate while I was there.
The number one food option at the festival for vegans was definitely japchae (잪채, a glass noodle stir-fry dish).
I had been expecting japchae to be an option there, but I wasn’t expecting it to be sold at so many stands. I saw japchae at four different stands while I was on the hunt for vegan options. I tried two of the japchae options over the course of the weekend. I always ask if a dish is vegan, and then usually end up explaining that it can’t have meat, seafood, egg, etc., just to be clear. The japchae that I saw all appeared to be vegan, but I only double-checked at the two locations that I tried.
My favourite of the two japchae dishes I tried was from Kim’s Food Court (photo above).
This booth was the most confident about telling me if dishes were vegan or not, which was very much appreciated. The japchae was the only vegan dish they sold. It had mushrooms, onion, carrot, and green pepper.
Young and Sun Kitchen was another stand that had japchae. They were very enthusiastically selling their food on the Sunday that I was there, so I chose their booth over the others that had japchae. Also, their japchae had broccoli, and I love broccoli. They didn’t quite understand my questions about the food, but that was fine, and I was eventually reassured that there was no meat in the dish. This japchae had mushroom, carrot, lots of broccoli, and lots of sesame seeds.
One of my favourite items from the event is something that I have seen before, but I had never tried. A twist potato, or hoeori gamja, (회오리 감자, a deep fried spiral-cut potato on a skewer).
At the Korean Festival, they had a twist potato stand, and I decided to try it out. They sold the potato version for $7 and the taro version for $9. They also had sweet potato listed on their sign, but I don’t think they were selling it at this event, since it was listed as “sold” throughout the weekend.
I tried the potato option, and I loved it.
They had a lot of spice options to add to your tornado, including many vegan options. I would guess that the salt, super spicy, buffalo, garlic salt, ketchup powder and regular ketchup, vinegar and malt vinegar toppings are all safe for vegans, although I didn’t ask about them to be sure.
There were some cheesy or creamy powders that I would stay away from if you’re looking for vegan food, but the majority of the toppings looked very vegan-friendly.
I had my potato with the super spicy topping on most of it, and I tried the garlic salt option on a section of it. Both were good, but I loved the super spicy option (although I didn’t find it to be “super” spicy).
At the Korean Street Food stand, their options were clearly displayed with ingredients listed, which made things quite easy to choose from. I had a pumpkin soup there, after asking to be sure it was vegan, since it was one of the only things that didn’t have ingredients listed.
The soup was quite good. It was listed as pumpkin soup on the sign in English, but written in Korean, it was listed as hobakjuk (호박죽, pumpkin porridge). Hobakjuk is thickened with rice flour, so it was quite thick and it was very sweet. It cost $5.
I thought that the kale pancake labeled as vegetarian at this booth might be vegan, but it is vegetarian, as advertised. When I asked about it, the lady told me that there was very little egg in the very large batch of pancakes that they made. If you’re looking for a vegetarian dish, this one was actually quite tasty, according to my (Korean) friend who tried it.
They also sell some drinks that could be vegan-friendly, including lemonade and several kinds of tea.
Booths outside of the food section
Outside of the food section of the festival, there were a couple of booths that were selling edible products.
There was a booth selling Sea Sticks, which are packaged seaweed rolls that are baked and seasoned. They offered samples at the booth, so you could try them before buying. They were $2 each, $5 for 3, or $10 for a box. They listed several flavours on their signs, but when I asked for the spicy flavour, they said it was the only one they were selling on Friday morning. I don’t know if they stocked other flavours throughout the weekend or not.
The spicy flavour has the following ingredients: dried seaweed, ground garlic, salt, pepper powder, icing sugar, and dried chilli pepper. I am not strict about sugar being vegan, but vegans avoiding most processed sugars would want to avoid this.
I really enjoyed the taste and texture of these seaweed sticks.
There was also a booth selling Korean red ginseng.
There was also clothing, books, and lots of other items for sale at the festival.
For dessert, there were a couple of ice cream options. Again, these are only for vegans who aren’t strict about eating refined sugar.
I tried the Jaws Bar, which was $2.50. It is a popsicle with a grey (orange-flavoured) outside and red (strawberry-flavoured) inside. The ice cream had no milk ingredients, but still tasted creamy, possible because it is made with jams instead of just regular artificial flavour. I had my friend check the ingredient list for me to be sure it didn’t have milk products, since the ingredients were only listed in Korean (and then I checked online later for English ingredients).
The Tank Boy popsicle-like treats don’t contain milk either and there were pear and apple flavours. They were $3 each.
There was a (Japanese) booth selling takoyaki and BBQ eel (both incredibly not vegan) that also sold a cool lime mint slush drink. It was listed as part of a combo deal with the meat dishes, but could be bought separately for $3.
I don’t usually love herbs in my drink, so I am sure I would have preferred this just as a lime slush, but it was refreshing and still quite good. I shared it with someone who loved it, so I think that anyone who likes mint and lime together would really enjoy this drink. It wasn’t artificial mint flavour, but actual flecks of mint leaves in the drink, which was nice.
In addition to the food, there were so many other fun activities to experience at this festival. I loved the music and dancing, and the hanbok (한복, traditional Korean clothing) experience booth, where people could see and try on traditional Korean clothing. I had always admired hanbok, so having an opportunity to see many hanbok in person, and even try some on, was wonderful.
As a note, some hanbok is made of silk, but often the materials are vegan, and the hanbok I tried on didn’t seem to have any silk. The potential for silk in some hanbok might not matter to some vegans, since it was just an opportunity for many people to try on the clothing instead of actually purchasing it, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
The entertainment on stage was great too, and there were things happening both on stage and on the sidewalk at the opposite end of the festival, so there was plenty to see and do at the event.
Overall, I would give the festival a 4/5.
It was closer to a 5/5 for the experience in general, and I was very happy that there were food options for me, but since there weren’t a lot of vegan food options and the quality of the food wasn’t stellar, I can’t give the event a perfect rating. All in all, I had a great time at the festival, and I look forward to going again next year!