Korean Temple Food and Hobak Mandu

Zucchini dumplings

I recently had the opportunity to interview with a Korean TV network, BTN – Buddhist Television Network. BTN sent a team of four people to travel and film a documentary about Korean temple cuisine in different parts of America. They asked me if I could make some temple dishes and share my thoughts on the food and cooking style. I had a great time cooking and filming a small part of the program while sharing the dishes with the friendly crew.

zucchini dumplings

Temple food has been increasingly popular in and outside Korea by health conscious people, as well-being, healing food regardless of religious backgrounds. I was very glad to have this opportunity to learn more about it.

While there is so much to talk about the 1700-year-old Korean temple food (사찰음식), here are five basic things you should know:

  1. Korean temple food excludes all animal products. Milk is allowed, so temple food as a whole is not vegan while most of individual dishes are. Temple cooking is primarily based on seasonal plant-based ingredients, which are either organically grown in temple grounds or harvested from nearby fields and mountains.  
  2. There are 5 forbidden vegetables, called oshinchae (오신채). They are garlic, scallion, onion, buchu (부추) – garlic chives, and dalrae (달래) – wild rocambole/small wild onion. These vegetables are considered stimulants which hinder spiritual meditation.  
  3. Temple dishes are lightly seasoned only with natural seasonings, so they generally have a mild, clean taste. Temple cooking uses a wide variety of natural flavor enhancers such as mushroom powder, lotus root powder, perilla seeds, etc. as well as temple made Korean traditional fermented condiments such as soy sauce (aka jib ganjang/soup soy sauce), doenjang (soybean paste) and gochujang (red chili pepper paste).
  4. Because they have to work with limited ingredients, temple cooks are experts on identifying edible wild plants, creating many different dishes with limited ingredients, and preserving/pickling vegetables when they are in season for later use.  
  5. In Buddhist temples, cooking and eating is considered spiritual meditation. The food is made with care to nourish the body, mind, and soul of those who eat it. Food is considered medicine. 

zucchini dumplings

This dumpling recipe made with summer zucchini was recently featured on BTN as a favorite summer dish at Bongnyeongsa, the oldest temple in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do. I was totally intrigued by the simplicity of this recipe, which was made with only 2 filling ingredients, one of which is actually optional. Bongnyeongsa boils these dumplings, cools in cold water, and serves cold.

Let me tell you — what a refreshing change this was from my usual mandu recipes which involve several filling ingredients and lots of chopping and squeezing! It is so easy to make, guys! The best part of it is the nice and clean taste which allows you to simply savor the natural flavor of the sweet summer zucchini. The mushroom complements the zucchini with a bit of earthy flavor and meaty texture.

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All the tableware shown in the final photos of this post are sponsored by Huue Craft, an online store dedicated to the finest Korean pottery tableware. They ship worldwide to over 25 countries. Visit Huue Craft online store for the beautiful tableware created by five of the renowned potters in Korea!Continue reading