Trying to do something new. Our office near Insa-dong is a short walk from Baru Gong, the Buddhist temple cuisine bistro. They have a W7,000 lunch buffet. Being Buddhist temple cuisine, it’s mega-vegan. I’m trying to take better care of myself–mostly. I tried to go vegetarian in college, and I ended up in a hospital emergency room. No real evidence that it was vegetarianism, but I was definitely malnourished.

So, I’ll go half-ass like I always do. I’m going to try to go four weeks eating Buddhist temple cuisine for lunch. And document it here.

(“Oh, joy! Another food blogger taking pictures of his lunch.”)

Yeah, I know. But some of it is interesting, and I thought I’d share a bit of what can be served as temple cuisine. Baru Gong itself is not fancy at all. It’s like a cafeteria. But the past few times I’ve been there, the food has been good and filling. And filling is a big thing for a carnivorous vegetarian. They try to educate diners a little bit about temple cuisine and the baru itself, which is the temple meal. Diners get a regular china plate and bowl. But on display at the buffet is the black lacquer wooden bowls, which fit inside each other like Matryoshka dolls. One is for rice, one for banchan, one for soup, and one for water. I wish they had more info on the meanings behind temple cuisine, like a trifold info sheet on a table about basic concepts. Eating meditation. The philosophy of not killing whenever possible–as in, the bee doesn’t kill the flower to make honey. And the notion that no bit of food is to be wasted. That’s one that doesn’t get through to diners, as I see plates and bowls with leftover food when I go to put mine away.

I’ve done articles on temple cuisine, have even given a lecture in New York. I’m not Buddhist, but I find it intriguing. I do find that I tend not to have my involuntary afternoon desk nap after a temple lunch. I do start getting a little peckish around four o’clock. But I have a remedy for that in the next post.

Here’s today’s lunch.

Being a buffet, it ain’t gonna look pretty on the plate.

Mixed Rice: Rice mixed with beans of different types. This is a typical Korean way of stretching the rice while adding protein. I like the earthy tones the beans add.

Radish Kimchi: Being temple cuisine, no fermented fish products are added, so fruit extracts are used to get the fermentation going. This was heavy on the ginger, which I liked.

Bireum Namul: I had to research this. The closest I got was Amaranth. It’s a tender wild herb.

Burdock Root: These were good! Slightly sweet pickled burdock root. I shoulda put more on my plate.

Nokdujeon: Mung bean pancakes. These are basically the same as bindaeddeok. They remind me a bit of cornbread. I wish there was a soy sauce to dip them in.

Acorn Jelly: When done well, acorn jelly can be very good. This was done a little similar to San Maul Boribap near my house in Anyang with lots of sesame. The texture of the jelly was softer and more rustic than usual.

Perilla Seed Soup: The secret to making temple cuisine taste good when you can’t use any animal products, garlic, or onions is liberal use of ddeulggei. Some call them perilla seeds. I prefer “wild sesame.” The soup had some bright greens and a hearty tofu with actual flavor.

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Joe McPherson founded ZenKimchi in 2004. He has been featured and sourced in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, CNN, KBS, MBC, SBS, Le Figaro, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, Harper’s Bazaar Korea, The Chosun Weekly, and other Korean and international media. He has consulted for "Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain," The Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, the PBS documentary series “Kimchi Chronicles,” and other projects in the UK, Canada, and Australia featuring celebrity chefs such as Gizzi Erskine and Gary Mehigan. Mr. McPherson has written for multiple Korean and international publications, including SEOUL Magazine, JoongAng Daily, The Korea Herald, Newsweek Korea and wrote the feature article for U.S. National publication Plate magazine’s all-Korean food issue. He has acted as dining editor for 10 Magazine and was on the judging panel for Korea for the Miele Guide. He spoke at TEDx Seoul on Korean food globalization, at TED Worldwide Talent Search on the rise of Korean cuisine, and in New York City on Korean Buddhist temple cuisine. The company ZenKimchi International organizes food tours for tourists and corporations and acts as a media liaison for foreign and Korean media and local restaurants and producers.
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