The chewing sounds have been deafening—at the very least relative to the calm exterior the Sixth-century Buddhist monastery Hwaeomsa (화엄사), situated within the foothills of Jirisan mountain in Korea’s Jeolla Province, a four-hour drive south of Seoul. Among the many chomping (and the occasional slurp) is the place I discovered myself on a current morning this fall. I had traveled to Hwaeomsa with my Koreatown coauthor, Deuki Hong, and photographer Alex Lau to get a way of how Korea’s historical temple delicacies is ready truthfully and spiritually as a culinary apply in a workaday temple of greater than 30 training monks and nuns—and the occasional Korean customer seeking to unplug from the day by day grind.
A part of this discovery was standing within the nook of a spotless eating corridor at 5:10 a.m. and watching, but in addition listening to, the monks eat breakfast—a well-considered buffet-style unfold of deep taste and tongue-snapping fermentation that included most of the Korean nationwide meals (doenjang-jjigae, marinated dubu, baechu kimchi) ready with none animal merchandise, onions, garlic, leeks, chives, or different astringent flavors.
This isn’t the Korean monk-chef cooking made famous on Netflix a few years back. There’s no concerto of Vivaldi violins to be discovered. As an alternative, by means of our visits to Hwaeomsa and different temples round Seoul, we discovered temple meals introduced in multitudes—and passionate cooks getting ready it—that confirmed as a lot creativity as humility. And the bowl of plant-based jjigae, formed with a inventory of kim (Korean seaweed), foraged shiitake mushrooms, daikon radish, and the chef’s stash of selfmade doenjang (the foundational fermented bean paste and the bottom of many Korean dishes), was one of the vital satisfying bowls of Korean soup I’ve ever tasted.
When Chef’s Desk dropped the primary episode of its third season in February 2017—a season that includes well-known American cooks Ivan Orkin and Nancy Silverton—comparatively little was identified exterior Korea concerning the delicacies of Korean Buddhism, a apply first launched 1,700 years in the past. Jeff Gordinier had written a few monk-chef named Jeong Kwan and her culinary tutelage of the chef and Buddhist Eric Ripert within the New York Times Magazine two years prior, but it surely was the worldwide attain of Netflix, in addition to Chef’s Desk’s visionary method to meals documentary filmmaking, that had the world mesmerized. “I make meals as a meditation,” Kwan says on the shut of the episode. “I'm dwelling my life as a monk with a blissful thoughts and freedom.”
The episode occurred to premiere throughout a time of rising mainstream curiosity in meditation and mindfulness together with plant-based consuming, and it was adopted by visits to Kwan’s temple from cooks together with Noma’s René Redzepi, Maison Aribert’s Christophe Aribert, and extra prolonged residencies from well-regarded Korean cooks Mingoo Kang of Mingles in Seoul and Kwang Uh, previously of Baroo in Los Angeles and at present of Shiku within the metropolis’s Grand Central Market.
“The spirit of temple meals that monk Jeong Kwan talked about is respect and gratitude for all life, and all life is linked,” observes Younglim Kim, a group lead on the Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism. “All the monks and believers in Korean Buddhism assume the identical method,” she provides. “Nonetheless, the meals tradition varies, and the temple meals of Jeonggwan doesn't apply equally to different temples or different areas.” Kim likens the various types of temple delicacies to that of kimchi, noting that the meals ready by monks and nuns in northern Gangwon might considerably fluctuate from that of the Busan area and the Jeolla area, the place we have been watching the nun chef Kyungjin Lee put together morning jjigae for residents and visitors.
Kim, who leads the Buddhist Monastic Delicacies program within the Tradition Corps, views the variety of temple delicacies as a gateway for outsiders to find out about Korean heritage, partake in Buddhist traditions, and eat rustic cooking that eschews the stereotype of Korean meals as completely a barbecue and bibimbap affair. In pre-pandemic 2019, greater than 460,000 Koreans and 70,000 foreigners partook in a temple stay program—and the quantity is anticipated to develop considerably because the world continues to embrace Korean meals and tradition.
For our second temple go to this fall, our group traveled north of Seoul to Jinkwansa Temple (진관사), tucked on the sting of the hilly Bukhansan Nationwide Park, which, on this cloudless day, had autumn’s electrical leaf show cranked as much as 11. Whereas Hwaeomsa had the sensation of a summer time camp—albeit a well-ventilated, impeccably clear rural lodging—Jinkwansa was extra slick and polished (Jill Biden visited in 2015), that includes a present store promoting books and prayer beads, manicured vegetable gardens, and a hospitable and chatty monk named Solar Woo. (Ever surprise how a screening of Parasite would play to a crowd of monastic college students? Solar Woo has a narrative.)
Jinkwansa can be one of many few all-female monasteries in Korea, and on the morning of our arrival, our group was led to satisfy with chief monk Gye Ho to speak concerning the rise of temple delicacies in Korea earlier than making some contemporary dubu utilizing essentially the most conventional strategies, which contain soaked soy beans, a big grinder known as a mot dol, and Gye Ho’s smiling instructions.
With our group seated in a sunny room of blond woods and uncommon Korean flag, the nationwide Taegeukgi that dated again to the Japanese colonial interval, encased in glass throughout the room, I requested her how the rise of temple delicacies, and the Jeong Kwan impact, has altered the trajectory of temple meals in Korea—and what it means for her personally. “It’s like a drugs for the human physique,” she says by means of a translator. Gye Ho, now in her 70s, grew to become a nun at age 19 and channeled a love of cooking into her apply, finding out below a number of grasp monks. “Cooking is the extension of my apply. Feeding the physique is identical as feeding the thoughts.”
The dialog started shifting in an attention-grabbing course, broaching a topic that had been in my thoughts since we shared tea with an enterprising monk at Hwaeomsa the day earlier than. Whereas pouring us cups of maehwa (plum flower) and ssuk (mugwort) tea, he had casually talked about his fondness for samgyeopsal (pork stomach). Huh? Had he, a devoted monk, truly consumed meat with out disgrace? He confirmed, nonchalantly, his occasional style for animal merchandise, although stressing that it was very rare.
I needed to ask Gye Ho for clarification. “Don’t kill animals or any dwelling beings,” she says sharply, referencing each meat and fish. “However for some monks over 80 years previous, it's okay for them to absorb meat or fish not killed by themselves.”
Whereas the problem of meat consumption inside Korean Buddhism is complicated and can't be answered in a number of interviews, it reinforces the truth that Korean temple delicacies is hardly a monolith, and that the Jeong Kwan narrative is just one of many tales. Throughout our current time in Korea, and on earlier journeys and travels, I’ve noticed temple delicacies in lots of types. I used to be as soon as served a small nest of sauteed burdock root, sweetened with ganjang (soy sauce) and orchard fruits, as a part of a multicourse tasting worthy of excessive vital reward (if not solely the extremely doubtful Michelin star). I’ve had a messy bowl of rice porridge (juk) streaked with sesame oil for breakfast. I’ve even tasted Jeong Kwan’s cooking at Le Bernardin in New York, throughout a particular visitor luncheon hosted by Ripert.
On this current go to, I sampled the chef Kyungjin Lee’s plant-based baechu kimchi. It was candy and contemporary, solely a day marinated, and it modified the best way Deuki and I considered so-called “vegan kimchi.” We’re engaged on a recipe now for our subsequent e book, Koreaworld.
“Over 1,700 years have handed since Buddhism was launched to Korea,” Younglim Kim jogs my memory. “And since recipes are being handed down, Jeong Kwan can not symbolize all of them.” Nor ought to we anticipate illustration from a single chef. Jeong Kwan—and her expert advertising and publicity group—deserve credit score for evangelizing temple delicacies by means of media and occasions all over the world. However the future will provide a lot greater than a single viewpoint for an $8.99 month-to-month subscription.