As part of the Taste Korean Temple Food 2014 cultural event in New York City, I was invited to a Korean Temple Food dinner on the Upper West Side. I knew absolutely nothing about Korean Temple Food, so I was in for an education.
Korean Temple Food originated in Korean Buddhist temples, and focuses on the principles of being grateful to everyone who prepared the meal, eating for health in proper proportions, and not wasting a single grain of rice. Americans have something to learn from these ideals!
Monks have been preparing this entirely vegan food for the past 1700 years. The amount of variety in the dishes is truly impressive, especially since their faith forbids the use of garlic, scallion, chives, wild chives and leeks.
Our chef for the evening was the most famous monk chef in the world, the Venerable Jeok Mun, so I knew it would be fabulous!
At the beginning of the meal we were served Aged Pine Needle Tea as an aperitif. Here’s a fun fact: alcohol is not served with Korean Temple Food…
Our first appetizer was Creamy “Wisdom” Soup with rice, barley, red beans, soybeans, mung beans, sesame seeds, peanuts and lotus root, with a red date as a garnish.
I felt healthier already.
We were then served Lotus Root Salad with Ginseng Perilla Dressing as another appetizer. It contained bok choy, chicory, pear, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes with a dressing of fresh ginseng, perilla seed and preserved Japanese apricot.
Then it was time for the main event!
The Lotus Seed Rice was one of my favorite dishes. It had sweet brown rice, ginkgo, goji berry, ginseng, walnuts and pine nuts.
There was also Sarcodon Aspratus Mushroom Soup made with shiitake mushroom stock.
One of the prettiest dishes was the Shiitake and Tofu in Green Tea Sauce. This had shiitake, radish and tofu slowly infused in green tea and red pepper powder sauce garnished with pickled sancho pepper.
We were also served Grilled Mushrooms in Gochujang Sauce. This plate had shiitake, king oyster and baby bella mushrooms that were marinated in aged red pepper paste, perilla seed oil and a ginger sauce.
There was a Fruit Kimchi, which was a savory fruit salad composed of apple, Asian pear and mango.
The Vegetable Medley was quite tasty. It had spinach, bean sprout and radish lightly tossed in sesame seasoning.
The Gochujang-Pickled Radish is the homemade specialty of the master chef’s Buddhist temple, so I’m glad we got to try it!
Another favorite of mine was the Tofu Pocket with Bean Sprouts and Sweet Potato Noodle Filling. It was served in a reduced soy-sesame sauce.
Another pretty dish was the White Ginseng Roll with Red Ginseng Sauce. It is honey-soaked ginseng, enoki mushrooms, red date, chestnut, walnut and pine nut rolled in cucumber and served with red ginseng extract sauce.
I loved the Tri-Colored Lotus Roots. Finally, something fried!
The lotus roots were colored with spinach, gardenia and prickly pear cactus powder and deep fried in a potato starch and flour batter.
After dinner we were served a traditional herb drink with pine nuts and honey.
You definitely leave feeling healthier (now I don’t have to work out for a month!). I do still love cheeseburgers, and can’t picture myself becoming vegan, however the dinner definitely made me think more about the nutrients that I’m consuming and how to be more aware of what I’m eating and where it comes from.
All in all, the experience was unique and incredible, and one that I’m not going to forget.
If you want to try the food yourself, Venerable Jeok Mun will be at the Fancy Food Show from today until July 1st!