Information on Korean Temple Cuisine


A bowl of food on a plate

Korean temple cuisine refers to a type of cuisine that originated in Buddhist temples of Korea. Since Buddhism was introduced into Korea, Buddhist traditions have strongly influenced Korean cuisine as well. During the Silla period (57 BC – 935 AD), chalbap, a bowl of cooked glutinous rice, yakgwa, a fried dessert and yumilgwa, a fried and puffed rice snack were served for Buddhist altars and have been developed into types of hangwa, Korean traditional confectionery. During the Goryeo Dynasty, sangchu ssam, wraps made with lettuce, yaksik, and yakgwa were developed, so spread to China and other countries. Since the Joseon Dynasty, Buddhist cuisine has been established in Korea according to regions and temples.

On the other hand, royal court cuisine is closely related to Korean temple cuisine. In the past, when the royal court maids called sanggung, who were assigned to Suragan (hangul; hanja: the name of the royal kitchen), where they prepared the king’s meals, became old, they had to leave the royal palace. Therefore, many of them entered Buddhist temples to become nuns. As the result, culinary techniques and recipes of the royal cuisine were integrated into Buddhist cuisine.

A plate of food on a table

Korean temple food is an ecofriendly, ‘less is more’ cuisine originated by Korean Buddhist monks and nuns well over 1,000 years ago. Dishes are simple and consist of vegan-only ingredients packed with flavour and significance. Here’s everything you need to know.

Buddhist monks and nuns in Korea have lived by the principles of zero waste and veganism for more than 1,600 years. In that time, Buddhist culinary practices have come to inform much of what we consider to be typical Korean cuisine today. With an emphasis on using sustainable and locally sourced ingredients, Korean temple food is all about crafting tasty recipes that are ecofriendly, minimalist and vegan.

Earthy, salty, spicy; crunchy, chewy, firm – Korean temple cuisine takes natural ingredients and turns them into a cornucopia of tasty and textured dishes. These seasonal, wholesome recipes include tofu stews, rice soups and kimchi, often combining preserved vegetables with fresh, seasonal produce. Forget the Korean versions of barbecue and fried chicken – these aromatic, healthy concoctions are what form the backbone of the average Korean person’s diet.

The original slow food

A plate full of food sitting on a table

While it’s tempting to view veganism and a zero-waste lifestyle as trends, in South Korea, the slow food movement has thrived for centuries. The key tenets of Korean temple cuisine are rooted in Buddhist philosophy, emphasising the importance of staying healthy, ecofriendly and minimalist. Eat only what your body needs, and waste not even a single grain of rice.

Buddhist monks and nuns have long used plants and herbs found growing on the mountainsides near their temples for their medicinal properties. Some of these are naturally abundant at certain times of the year, including naengi, or shepherd’s purse, one of the first plants to emerge from the frozen ground at winter’s end. Shepherd’s purse is often sautéed, using the plant and root, with flour and water to make a savoury pancake that has a cabbage-like flavour.

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