• By: Karen Temple

A Gift From the Monasteries of Korea

Feature Photo: Chef Ji Young Kim from Korean Michelin star restaurant, Balwoo Gongyang with (RIGHT) her sous-chefs.

Mention Korean food and images of BBQ, bibimbap bowls or kimchi might spring to mind. But what about Korean Temple food? Far from a Korean foray into the seemingly fad-wagon of veganism, Korean monastic cuisine has existed for more than 1,700 years and it is the ultimate vegan experience. 

Visiting Ottawa to promote Korean Temple cuisine, Chef Ji Young Kim with the assistance of her team of chefs and the chefs from Ottawa’s famed Le Cordon Bleu prepared dishes with sauces that were fermented for two years, kelp that was aged for seven years and a variety of aged soya sauces.  Infusing, pickling, fermenting and dehydrating are all techniques widely used in the preparation of temple meals. Through a translator, chef Ji explained how Temple food is “created with care to nourish one’s mind, body and soul”.

There’s no meat, nothing artificial, and no vegetables from the onion family are used. The result is clean, light and yet highly flavourful. In Buddhist tradition, alcohol is not consumed so each course was accompanied by cold teas that ranged from a light, yet complex, fermented pine needle tea to an intense cinnamon-infused cassia twig tea.

The main course that included: Steamed rice wrapped in a lotus leaf. Perilla seed soup with burdock. Braised lotus root with soy sauce. Stir-fried mushroom seasoned with deonjang sauce. Seasoned spinach with seaweed. Napa cabbage with kimchi. Young radish kimchi with millet.

This monastic style of cooking incorporates spiritualism at its core. Everything is natural right down to the serving trays, bowls and chopsticks that are all made of wood. The premise is to eat healthy food, the proper portions and to protect all creatures.

We left feeling utterly satisfied and grateful for the experience and introduction into the world of Korean monastic vegan cuisine. With diet related health issues plaguing North America, maybe it’s time we all incorporated Korean Temple food into our lives.

Unfortunately for Ottawa vegans, Balwoo Gongyang in Seoul, Korea is currently the only restaurant that offers Korean Temple cuisine.

If the idea of Temple food lights a spark in your fire, consider taking a giant leap and explore the possibility of visiting Korea for a Temple Stay. These are multi-day food and cultural retreats that include staying at Buddhist Temples.

With PyeongChang 2018 right around the corner, a Temple Stay might be a wonderful complement to a Korean Olympic experience.

For more information visit: koreantemplefood.com

Follow Korean Temple food on instagram: koreantemplecuisine