I have had a fascination with Korean Temple Food where fermenting is key since I watched a brilliant doco on Netflix – The Chefs Table. The most breathtaking episode of Chef’s Table featured Jeong Kwan – an inspiring 60-year-old Zen Buddhist nun who prepares vegan meals for her community at Baekyangsa Temple, which is located 169 miles south of Seoul. What I really love about Temple Food is that it is prepared by buddhist monks and comes from the heart with love and is designed to awaken the mind. It starts in the garden with the planting and the nurturing that goes in the ingredients. This can be replicated in your home with love, patience and an open mind to nurturing and healthy cuisine for a Beautiful Mind.
Temple Food is completely vegan and doesn’t allow the use of five aromatic ingredients which include green onions, garlic, Chinese chives, wild chives and Chinese squill. This way of cooking is not about adding; it’s about subtracting. The Buddhist Monks philosophy is the taste of a dish should not be amplified by adding more things to it. The key is to use the bare minimum ingredients to maximise the integrity of the dish. The monks believe that the 5 aromatics including garlic disrupt one’s peace of mind which is crucial to their buddhist practice. This did make me ponder on how I do use onion and garlic in nearly all my cooking and often I am left tossing and turning at night due to the over stimulation of these aromatics.
While I had read up on Temple Food and had tried kimchi I had never experienced the real thing ……… until now. The perfect opportunity arose last week when I visited Seoul to attend Incos Beauty for my business, Girl Undiscovered. After doing extensive research I made a booking at Balwoo Gongyang. This style of food is important to me as it is based on fermentation which has incredible benefits for gut health. Fermented food contains good bacteria which has some unbelievable health benefits for the brain particularly in the possibility of preventing neurological diseases such as the one close to my heart – Alzheimers.
Temple Food Degustation lunch
Balwoo Gongyang became the first Korean-style temple food restaurant in the world to receive a Michelin star. Run by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the restaurant has been offering simple yet exquisite monastic dining since it opened its doors in 2009. As everything is plant-based, the seasonality of ingredients is crucial. At Balwoo Gongyang they change their menu every three months. They source most of their ingredients, prepared and fresh from different temples around the country. For instance, the tofu they use is delivered daily via the KTX high-speed train from Tongdosa Temple). The Venerable Jeong Kwan at Baekyangsa Temple sends them their jangajji which are pickled vegetables. Balwoo make their own ganjang-cha (soy sauce tea) with a 20-year-old soy sauce made by the Venerable Seon Jae. Much of the fresh produce they use is harvested at the different temples as well.
I had initially booked to have this experience solo, however was delighted to make some friends on my travels who joined me. When we arrived we were taken into a private room and given a menu where we could select from 4 different set menus. We chose a Summer course called Won which means a righteous wish.
In Buddhism, eating food is part of the path of practice to enlightenment and divided into five different categories.
Cucumber jelly with 7 year aged kelp & persimmon vinegar
The first dish is designed to moisten your mouth and help to enhance the digestion as old Koreans eat water-gimchi or a dip of long-preserved soy sauce.
Juksang – porridge
Juksang is always served as an early breakfast for the Buddhist practitioners. It was great to discover Jukl has five advantages such as resolving hunger, quenching thirst, helping digestive problem, preventing stroke and normalising the bowel. I made a vow I would start my morning ritual back again of porridge with berries.
Gamja eung-yi and moo jjanji – this is potato soup with salted white radish
Sangmi – is selection of wild little salads.
Taste in Buddhism is classified into 10 different categories. Among them, sangmi means to feel the taste and smell. The favours were delicate yet exciting and the smells were woody and beautifully exotic.
Dotori-muk bokkeum – Stir-fried dried acorn jelly
Chamae muchim – Seasoned Korean melon
Gaji naengchae – Summer eggplant with ginger sauce
Dammi – Starter or Hot Preparation
Dammi is the taste of chewing or taste by food texture. Dammi is the dish of unique texture and recipe, from which one can enjoy the chewing texture of food.
Beoseot-gangjeong – Deep fried mushrooms caramelised with special gochujang sauce, with topping of temple recipe vege-chips. This dish was my absolute favourite – the mushrooms were heavenly.
Oiji – Early summer salted cucumber.
Hodu jorim – Glazed Walnut with soy sauce
Nokdu jeon – Mung bean pancake
Yeorumchaeso jeon – Summer vegetable pancake
Seongso – Noodle
Seongso is another name for noodle in Buddhism, which means the dish that makes even the practitioners smile. This course includes tofu, pan-fried cake, and dumpling as well as noodle that makes the practitioners who don’t usually devour smile. This dish was sublime.
Pyogobeoseot-naengmyeon – Cold noodle with spicy shiitake mushroom & pear sauce
Dubu-gui – Grilled bean curd
Temple mandu – Temple recipe vegetable dumpling
Youmi – Main Course
Youmi is the taste that helps to recover from illness. Youmi consists of dishes such as rice, condiments and soup that ease daily physical fatigue and mental stress of the people today.
Yeonipbap – Steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf
Dongchimi doenjang jjigea – Chef’s special recipe soy bean paste stew
2 kinds of temple kimchi
2 kinds of Yeorumnamul
2 kinds of seasoned summer greens
One Jangajji – Fermented pickle
A word of warning – ease into the kimchi and fermented pickle, tasting but perhaps not eating, the entire bowl of each. I think I was so excited about the food I ate pretty much everything and all I can say is lucky no one was sharing a room with me as it is very windy food!
Ipgasim – Dessert
Rounding the meal up is the ipgasim or dessert. It is prepared with ingredients and recipes that clean the remaining taste in the mouth and help to enhance digestion. Instead of sugar, they use jocheong–a traditional dark syrup made with fermented rice
Pat yang-gang – Red bean jelly
Seoritea bok cha – Toasted black bean tea
The desert did not blow me away but it did look beautiful and so much better for me that a hot fudge sundae
An incredible experience – this was a journey of tastes, textures and fragrance that was not only some of the most interesting food I have experienced, there was an amazing feeling of enlightenment. You get a huge sense of the time, thought and love that goes into every morsel and I feel so incredibly lucky to have experienced this. I will be bringing more fermented food into my cooking and experimenting with aged soya sauce, cutting back on meat as well as garlic and onions for a Beautiful Mind