In a solid, consistent, and advantageous manner, 'Soiroum'

Magazine YOOHEE No.22 <Soiroum>

Trees and shops line up along Nuha-dong Boulevard. Even though it is well known as a cherry blossom spot, this is a wonderful place to stroll during the autumn months as well. While walking under the blue sky, I anticipate that the streets will soon be adorned with vivid fall foliage. The number of new buildings and shops has increased in Nuha-dong recently, and I am curious to see what is new, but I feel sad when my familiarity fades away. This reminds me of certain stores that have been firmly established for an extended period of time. Among them, Soiroum, located in the middle of Nuha-dong, is not very old, but it can be compared to an old impression of a place that has continued to be maintained with familiarity and firmness. There are several vegan restaurants in Seochon besides Soiroum, but people come and go lightly to Soiroum, such as cafes and restaurants, and today, Nuha-dong and the jade green exterior compliment the autumnal scenery.

<Chapter1. Soiroum>

How would you describe Soiroum? Tell us what the name means and what the store is about.

Soiroum is a cafe and restaurant that specializes in vegetable desserts and other food without animal products. It is possible to interpret the name "Soiroum" in two different ways. When you add the word "yiroum" meaning beneficial, it means that you are aiming for highly beneficial foods. In other words, the first letter "so" means "very." Secondly, if you consider the word "Soi" as "Soy", it becomes the word for soybeans. Beans are a common food ingredient that is used in our foods. In that sense, it means "our own food made with tofu or beans" and "beneficial food," which means pursuing originality.

What is vegan food? I wonder what makes it different from other restaurants.

Essentially, it means "pure vegetation." However, the word "vegan" does not refer solely to the use of vegetables but also excludes all products that come from animals. That stage may seem excessive. Honey, for instance, appears to be a vegetable ingredient at first glance, but it is actually an animal ingredient since it is a product of bees. Therefore, it cannot be considered vegan. Further, when looking at the ingredient list, if a type of vitamin has been extracted based upon animal ingredients, then the ingredient itself cannot be considered vegan. Indirectly or directly, veganism is the exclusion of all animal products.

Essentially, this means all animal ingredients are excluded from the preparation and purchase of ingredients for cooking, in addition to simply not using "meat."

That's right. Vegetarian types are divided into several stages and vary considerably. The most strict form of vegetarianism is veganism.

Do you practice veganism as well?

I try to live as a vegan as much as possible in my daily life. I do not like meat, and I usually eat vegan meals since I run a vegan restaurant.

I wonder if you are aiming not only for food but also for the items you use that are vegan.

There are not all products that are vegan, but I try to use as many as possible. A number of vegan skincare products are available on the market today. I anticipate that there will be more such products in the future. In the next three years, more than half of the cosmetics stand is expected to be vegan.

It has already been about four years since Soiroum opened. At the time of opening, there would have been fewer vegans than there are today, so why did you choose to open a vegan restaurant?

The store opened so quickly that I did not expect to be the owner so quickly. Prior to this, I dreamed about making my own food and selling it, but I only thought about it vaguely, as if it were in the distant future. My parents, however, saw that I was making vegan food and asked me to run a store. My family is very motivated. Choosing from store contracts to item selection was a straightforward process with my parents.

However, vegan cafes were exploding before Soiroum opened. There have been cases of commercial success for vegan bakeries in areas such as Yeonnam-dong, and the increase in vegan bakeries increased public awareness of other vegan foods besides bakeries.

You have also held a vegan bakery pop-up store in Yeonnam-dong. Please tell me more about that.

I wanted to test whether the item I envisioned would be popular with the people before deciding to start a business in earnest. Many people visited my store after viewing blogs at that time, and I was constantly aware of how the store operates as a business.

Before opening the store, you participated in many vegan-related events, is that correct?

In those days, I had only completed my undergraduate degree at the university and had not graduated. It was a time when I had a great deal of time and was unsure what to do in my future. At the time I was contemplating various career options, I lacked experience and I ended up holding a vegetarian meeting. One of the group members suggested that I participate in a vegan festival. When I saw that the vegan food I made was being sold, I decided to open up the business. This accumulation of experiences contributed to Soiroum in 2017.

Personally, I believe Seochon is a place in which tradition and modernity are harmoniously combined. Moreover, I believe that Soiroum also pursues the sustainability of veganism. Do you have any specific reasons for selecting Seochon to operate your store?

Actually, there is no significant reason for this. I looked in most places in Seoul for open spaces, including Mangwon-dong, Yeonnam-dong, Hapjeong, Daehak-ro, etc. Then my grandmother went to a famous fortune-teller's house, and she told me to avoid the direction of "west" from my house, and face the direction of "northwest" or "southeast." The west direction at home is Mangwon and Hapjeong, well-known for veganism, so I had intended to try Mangwon and Hapjeong-dong, but something was bothering me.

In view of the circumstances and future prospects we had in mind, it seemed that this particular site in Seochon, where we were fortunate to find it, would be best suited. There were many positive aspects to this place. Since Gyeongbokgung Palace is located nearby, and it is not far from my house, there were many foreigners who only ate vegan food. Plus, it was also northwest, as the fortune-teller told me.

<Chapter2. Ingredients and Menus that are Beneficial to your Health>

I believe you and your parents co-own the restaurant. I'm curious as to who is in charge of the executive chef.

My mother is the primary chef. I believe I am responsible for ingredient inspection, recipe development, and bakery operations. My mother produces the majority of the food in the store. I was knowledgeable about vegan cooking and vegetable ingredients but lacked some culinary skills, and my mother possessed culinary abilities but was unaware of veganism. That, I believe, is how we complement one another and create synergy.

Because vegan food contains fewer ingredients than conventional food, I believe extensive research on ingredients is necessary. Which ingredients do you typically employ?

There are numerous vegan products available, such as vegan mayonnaise and hamburg steak, but we prefer to make and use them ourselves as much as possible. This is because it is the most reliable method for obtaining ingredients.

Additionally, one of the things I always keep is an eye out for food ingredients that contain GMOs. While the right and wrong uses of GMO foods are subjective, I have concerns about their safety.

You are aware that you have your own baseline, aren't you?

Yes, exactly. Additionally, look for anything unfamiliar with the raw material's name to ensure there are no issues. While frozen French fries would be convenient, a closer examination of the ingredients reveals soybean and canola oils. Due to the high likelihood that GMO ingredients were used in this case, we chose not to use them. Apart from that, I believe that utilizing vegetables is not difficult.

Tempeh Tangsu and Tempeh jorim over rice are on the special menu at Soiroum. Could you please explain "Tempeh," a term that is unfamiliar to me?

Tempeh, as far as I am aware, is a fermented soybean ingredient that is similar to rich soybean paste in Korea and natto in Japan. While Natto is sticky, Tempeh has been hardened into a "bar," making it ideal for grilling or frying. Additionally, people are less averse to consuming fermented soybean ingredients. Cheonggukjang has a strong aroma, doesn't it? Additionally, natto can be rejected due to its slick texture. There are few dislikes, and I believe I use it frequently because it can be used in gimbap, fried, or cooked. Furthermore, because protein is the primary ingredient, it can be used in place of meat.

Where and how do you typically find menu inspiration? With so few vegan recipes available, I'm sure there will be numerous trials and errors.

I made numerous references to foreign recipes while I was researching the menu. I've always visited Japan once a year, but every time I went, I made a point of visiting the Vegan Festival. We evaluate the menus that we can try by observing what foods inspire us, what ingredients we can use, and how the local vegan restaurant's menu is composed. This is a recurrence of the procedure. This process also resulted in the addition of taco rice to our menu. Although it appears to be bibimbap, I felt it would be more convenient to prepare a sauce, and thus created this menu. I've experimented with a variety of menus previously, but there are a surprising number of items that have been silently buried.

Which of the menus you've created so far is your personal favorite?

There is one more item on the menu that I cannot forget. They began selling vegan sushi in the early days. Vegan sushi was something new to me when I first encountered it at a local vegan festival in Japan. I thought it was absurd unique that vegetables could be used to make sushi. I promised that if I open a restaurant, I would try this menu. I eventually made it, but the efficiency decreased as a result of the ingredients maintenance, rotation rate, and cooking time. As a result, I bid this menu a farewell and sent it away.

Vegan pancakes are another blight on the menu. Similarly, I tried it at a Japanese restaurant known for its vegan pancakes and thought it was unique. The plating was so lovely that I promised to sell vegan pancakes when I'm in Korea. I did extensive research and even made vegan cream for the pancakes, but I sent it away for the same reason I sent vegan sushi away. While pancakes are not currently on the menu, some foreign customers occasionally visit and look for them.

Which of the current menus is your favorite?

I'm tethered to the all of current menus. If I'm forced to choose one, I believe "Taco rice" is the correct answer. I'm overjoyed that I've begun selling it in my store after experimenting with and researching the Japanese menu item known as Taco Rice.

While some believe that vegan food must consist entirely of vegetables, I believe there are a plethora of vegan options. Please introduce a menu in Soiroum that overcomes this prejudice.

It is, without a doubt, a "Hamburg Plate." Many people seek out Hamburg Plates regardless of whether they are vegan or not, and many others order them by accident.  To be safe, I tell them that it's a vegan menu free of animal products, but quite a few people order it regardless. Surprisingly, very few leftovers remain. Hamburg Plate is an excellent vegan introductory course, and if you inquire about the recommended menu, we strongly suggest Hamburg Plates.

<Chapter3. CEO Mijin Jeon and Soiroum>

I'm curious as to why you chose veganism.

I initially restricted myself to diet foods. For a long time, I've been fascinated by foods that promote body health. Even when I ate meat, I avoided saturated fat and chose chicken breast rather than pork belly, and I made a point of eating a variety of vegetables for my health. As I became more concerned with healthy eating, I began to wonder if the animal foods I naturally consumed were beneficial to my body. Previously, I believed that meat would be acceptable if it was nutritious, but now I'm wondering about the origin of this ingredient. As a result, I stayed away from animal ingredients in favor of plant-based alternatives. As an outcome of my frequent attendance at vegetarian seminars and food-related classes, I heard what experts had to say, and I believe my values have gradually changed.

I used to enjoy pork belly and soju, but I've converted to a Pesco-vegetarian lifestyle. Perhaps this is why many people around me were baffled. As a result, I was intrigued by your entourage's reaction.

I still meet with some of my college alumni, but I'm not interested in imposing my values on others, so I try to eat as much food as possible with my friends. Fortunately, I have a large circle of good friends, and I believe they perceive me as competent at managing rather than as unusual. I am profoundly appreciative.

You studied in Kyoto, as far as I am aware. I'm curious as to how this experience aided and inspired you to run or live.

Kyoto has been a turning point in my life. I originally went to Japan to study cartoons, but when I arrived in Kyoto, I discovered that despite its small size, the city had a multitude of vegan restaurants and cafes. What's unique about Kyoto is that vegetables are its specialty. Kyoto Vegetables has a unique product called "Kyoyasai." There is a distinct variety of vegetables that are only available in Kyoto, indicating their specialized nature. Tofu and beans are particularly popular among them. Perhaps this is why Kyoto had a wide range of vegan foods, and the things I tasted were acquired through experience. I was initially interested in diet food, but I believe that after studying in Kyoto, I developed a greater interest in vegan cuisine.

I'm curious if you have any other interests besides operating a business. I believe you previously took classes in Japanese and tea ceremonies.

I believe I began the Japanese class with the intention of studying the language in conjunction with the vegan bakeries I created. For about two years, I attended a yoga center for the tea ceremony class, and the director wanted to gather members and organize a workshop. I once studied tea ceremonies and instructed the members on how to properly wear yukata and make tea properly.

I'm not the type to focus solely on a single thing. Apparently, engaging in a variety of activities and experiences correlates with happiness. I haven't made up my mind yet, but I want to experiment with a variety of different things while running a restaurant.

<Chapter4. Concluding the interview>

Due to the increased popularity of veganism in recent years, issues such as sustainability and eco-friendliness are likely to have a significant impact on how the business operates. Is there a direction in which you must progress or one in which you wish to progress while running Soiroum?

I'm spending a lot of time thinking about environmentally friendly packaging materials these days. I'm attempting to minimize waste generation as much as possible when I run a store, and I'm also considering activities such as the "recycle challenge," which I've been doing a lot lately. I'm acquainted with the proprietors of nearby vegetarian cafes and restaurants, and there are plenty of things I can learn from them. Certain cafes utilize biodegradable scone wrappers, which I believe is admirable. We must gradually practice in the direction in which we wish to proceed.

After the meal, I reflected on CEO Mijin Jeon's statement that she opened a vegan restaurant out of natural curiosity. The abrasiveness of the vague sense of joy was not accidental, and we move beyond the concept of veganism to applaud the small but significant direction and practice of the vague sense of joy in order to make a positive difference for the environment and animals. It's an autumn day beneath a light green sky, and after a healthy meal, we'd like to share stories that benefit our environment.

INTERVIEW DATE / 2021. 07. 22

INTERVIEWEE / @so_iroum



Edited by | SEOCHONYOOHEE          Photo by | SEOCHONYOOHEE  


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