Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review: Loving Hut restaurant, Seoul

NOTE: This guest post is from a member of Nanoomi.net, a community of writers, translators and Korea-enthusiasts who represent part of the diverse ecology of the Korean blogosphere. You can see more from Brian at Kiss My Kimchi.

The slogan "Be Veg! Go Green! Save the planet!" coupled with the streaming Internet show Supreme Master TV may seem like a plan conceived in the warped minds of the cartoon characters Pinky and the Brain. But this isn't some half-baked cartoon plot of world domination. Rather, it's a worldwide movement created by one diminutive elderly Asian woman who also operates the Loving Hut worldwide chain of vegan-vegetarian restaurants.

Supreme Master Ching Hai, founder of the Loving Hut restaurant chain as well as her own religion.  There are 20 locations in South Korea. (photo courtesy of sfweekly.com.)
Supreme Master Ching Hai was born in Vietnam as Hue Dang Trinh. She's the spiritual leader and creator of the Quan Yin Method. Her system of belief stems heavily from her studies of Surat Shabd Yoga. That is like — if you're a fan of the Final Fantasy multimedia sci-fi series — listening to the life stream of the world and hearing God speak.

Her principal teacher was the late great Sant Thakar Singh. With his teachings and a little dash of Buddhism for flavor, Hue Dang Trinh concocted her own belief system, and Supreme Master Ching Hai was born.

The five precepts of Quan Yin are:
  • Refraining from taking the life of sentient beings.
  • Refraining from speaking what is not true.
  • Refraining from taking what is not offered.
  • Refraining from sexual misconduct.
  • Refraining from the use of intoxicants.
Initiates must adhere to two and a half hours of meditation a day and practice a vegetarian diet for at least 10 days every month.

If you ask me, that's not very strict for someone who calls herself the Supreme Master. I'm thinking you should be on your knees meditating for at least eight hours or until you reach enlightenment with an epiphany of the exact shade of her blonde hair. Not that it really matters because it's really the vegetarian angle that allowed me to become aware of Supreme Master Ching Hai.

You see, I love her Loving Hut chain of restaurants. They specialize in vegetarian eco-friendly foods that often mimic meat so perfectly you wouldn't be able to tell the difference or mind it if you could.

An example of Loving Hut's innovative imitation meat dishes  Soy Steak (無오신채). Photo courtesy of http://lovinghut.kr/.)


However, Koreafornian Cooking bloggerista Tammy warned me about excessive consumption of soy-based meat analogues after reading about my Loving Hut experience:
I could tell you one "bad" thing, if you want. Unfermented soy is not healthy because it has lots of phytoestrogens that can mess with your endocrine system. Those soy-based meat products also have lots of sodium. (I speak from experience as a former Seventh-day Adventist who spent four-plus years of her life living on stuff like that.)
A quick Internet search revealed that the endocrine system in your body should not be messed with. It controls growth, mood and metabolism. Unless you want to turn into a rampaging, gender-bending amazon, you may want to reconsider going heavy on those foods.

The controversy surrounding Loving Hut and its enigmatic leader doesn't end with their imitation meat. Of course, when you're dealing with someone who refers to herself as "God's Direct Contact," there's bound to be some throwing of elbows, raising of eyebrows or pedestal kicking.

Ching Hai doesn't ask for membership dues, initiation fees or anything except an open mind and heart. Yet, if you take a closer look, you'll see that the Supreme Master also wants you to have an open wallet. She has dozens of books, paintings, works of art and even a clothing line called Celestial waiting to be purchased by her worldwide devotees, who often leave their old lives behind to work in her restaurants or organization. One follower even purchased the Supreme Master's old socks claiming, "at least I'll have her socks when she moves on."

Wackiness aside, if the Supreme Master hasn't scared you away, then I suggest checking out one of her Loving Hut locations. She has more than 20 locations around Korea.

Call ahead to ask if a location offers a buffet — my wholeheartedly recommended dining option. The price per person is 10,000 won during the week and 15,000 won on weekends. There are enough options to completely fill you up, even if you bypass the soy-based imitation meat dishes.

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