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Posted by on Dec 31, 2012 in Korean Culture, Vegetarian | 1 comment

Quick Q&A on Korean Buddhist temple cuisine

Quick Q&A on Korean Buddhist temple cuisine

Thomas Hulbert on Dec. 22 asked me in the Cultural, Ethnic & Religious Foods, Foodways & Dietary Practices forum on LinkedIn:

“Tammy — can you tell us more about Korean Buddhist Temple cuisine?”

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Korean Buddhist Temple meal served at Sanchon Temple, Insadong.
(courtesy of Julie Facine, via creative commons license)

With its emphasis on fresh local seasonal vegetables, Korean Buddhist temple cuisine is riding the wave of increasing popularity of Korean cuisine in the U.S. and Europe. Such temples are now using classes on their cuisine and opening restaurants throughout the U.S. and Europe to spead the practice of Korean Buddhism outside Korea’s shores.

This is Korean cuisine that is strictly vegetarian and follows the Buddhist prohibition on eating strong-smelling plants, such as garlic, onions, shallots, leek, chives, scallions — basically, anything in the Allium family. They also stay away from overly spicy condiments.

I can’t call it vegan, because some Korean Buddhists do consume dairy products in limited quantities, and I don’t know of any prohibition against eating honey either.

This cuisine has a strong emphasis on using local, seasonal vegetables. Many of the dishes are made from plants foraged in the wild or grown in temple gardens. Most of the temples are in the mountains, so most of the vegetables and herbs would come from mountain climates. Korean Buddhists have been locavores for 1,700 years.

Stews, soups and enhancements are simple. Seasonings are combinations of soy sauce, sesame oil doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste), mushroom powder, kelp powder, kkaenip (perilla) seed powder and sesame seeds.

Korean Buddhists also make and eat their own kimchi (fermented vegetables). But these kimchis aren’t highly spiced and would not have any fish sauce or salted seafood.

Portion control is also a crucial part of authentic Korean Buddhist cuisine. They will only take enough for their physical sustenance, eating just to satisfy hunger but not to feel full. They also will not leave even a single grain of rice in the bowl at the end of the meal.

There is, obviously, more to this cuisine, such as regional variations.

What are your experiences with temple-style food? Let me know in the comments section below.

1 Comment

  1. Very Korean way of food. I understand that Korean like this setup wherein they've got to pick their foods and stuff them on something.

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