Temple food refers to the food made mostly of vegan, seasonal ingredients that follow the laws of nature and refrain from killing living beings according to Buddha’s teachings. It avoids using five forbidden pungent roots (green onion, garlic, wild chive, chive, and asafetida) because they can interrupt meditation, the key to the path to enlightenment, by generating heat in the body and trouble in the mind. In other words, temple food must be full of goodness, to calm the mind, body, and soul.
In Buddhism, the concept of goodness in food is always associated with where ingredients come from. That is why temple food is made mostly of wild vegetables that are easily collected near mountain temples or crops directly grown and harvested by monks. All these valuable ingredients are never wasted and must be handled, prepared, and served with great care so that they will not defy the laws of nature and the environment. Cooking in Buddhism is at the heart of the maker, and a way of attaining the path to enlightenment. Therefore, temple food is always made and served with extra care.
Temple food is particularly known for being balanced and harmonious, using condiments made from temple-made fermented soybeans that invite the diner to relish the rich flavors of nature. It never gets boring as it uses a wide range of seasonal ingredients and embraces variations in texture and taste.
In Korea, temple food used to be available only at Buddhist temples; however, along with the increasing number of vegetarians and vegans, it has become easier to find restaurants specializing in temple food. Temple food is a perfect Korean-style vegan food that embodies the view of Buddhist practitioners.
Balwoo Gongyang Staying True to the Principles of Traditional Korean Temple Food
Located in the same building accommodating the Templestay Information Center, where you can experience the Korean temple culture, Balwoo Gonyang is a restaurant directly managed by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Its aim is to keep the original forms of Korean temple food and recipes. Since it values the importance of traceability, it only uses the ingredients from mountain temples. It offers a variety of full-course menus including Won Course (KRW 45,000), Maeum Course (KRW 65,000), and Hee Course (KRW 95,000), which requires a reservation, in addition to Seon Course (KRW 30,000) which is only available for lunch. They are named and priced differently depending on the number of dishes added to the standard course meal. To make the best of seasonal ingredients, Balwoo Gonyang changes the dishes included in these menus every three month.
5F, Templestay Information Center, 56, Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Lunch #1 11:30–13:20 #2 13:30–15:00 Dinner 18:00–21:30 Closed on Sunday
Sanchon Serving Food That Is Both Delicious and Healthy
As you take a walk in Insa-dong, filled with tranquil, beautiful hanok among high-rise buildings, you will find numerous old-fashioned restaurants and cafés with unique vibes. One of them is Sanchon, Seoul’s first temple food restaurant, opened in 1980. It offers full-course meals using recipes with the essence of temple cuisine. The appetizer, which derives the natural flavors of the ingredients, stimulates your appetite along with a cup of pine needle tea made by fermented pine needles. Following the appetizer a variety of pan-fried battered or seasoned vegetables and other set menu dishes will fill up your table.
30-13, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Maji Advocating for a Healthy Diet
Seochon Village is a small and peaceful area which used to be home to numerous artists in the past. Located at the heart of Seochon, Maji is a hanok-style restaurant specializing in temple food. Supporting his father with cancer and being allergic to antibiotics, the owner opened the restaurant to protect human health and the environment. Maji’s signature menu is Yeonbap Olim, which consists of savory, aromatic white lotus leaf wraps and rice along with a platter of nine vegan delicacies. Maji really lives up to its reputation as a clean and healthy temple food restaurant.
19, Jahamun-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Monday, Wednesday–Saturday 11:30–15:30, 17:00–21:00 Sunday 12:00–16:00 (Closed on Tuesday)