Specialty Restaurants for Temple Food: Hyang Juk Won & Baru
Hyang Juk Won is a restaurant serving temple food run by a Buddhist nun named Hye-yeon. She previously worked at producing cheonggukjang (quick-fermented bean paste) 청국장 with disabled individuals at a temple, but when she moved to the Buddhist temple called Jaunsa, Hye-yeon sunim decided to open a temple food restaurant. Maybe her prayers to Buddha came true, she’s not sure, but in any case she told me she was able to open Hyang Juk Won when a meat restaurant next to Jaunsa became available due to the owner’s health issues.
Introducing the “hyang” course
Yeonjajuk (연자죽, Lotus seed porridge)
This porridge is made from the berry of the lotus flower. It was so soft and mild that it reminded me of baby food. I started to feel like I wanted to feed spoonfuls of it to some little children.
Yachae salad (야채샐러드)
Fresh salad of vegetables and greens with lotus root~
Gaji-danhobak-gui (가지단호박구이, Broiled eggplant & sweet kabocha squash)
Hye-yeon sunim, who lives at Jaunsa temple along with several people with disabilities, stays quite busy; developing temple food, helping the disabled, and other activities.
On top of that, on the day I went to Hyang Juk Won, she was selling her jangajji pickles at a special event at the Seoul COEX branch of Hyundai Department Store. It was a shame she wasn’t at the restaurant that day, and I was disappointed to have missed seeing her, so I called her and gently made my inquiry, since I was eager to hear her story and learn more about her temple food restaurant.
The chief distinguishing characteristic of temple food is that it does not contain meat or any of the five pungent herbs, considered to be stimulants, known as ‘osinchae’ (오신채). Surely everybody knows that monks shy away from eating meat. But the notion of osinchae may be a little unfamiliar. The five strong herbs prohibited in Korean Buddhist temple food include maneul (garlic), pa (spring onions), buchu (Chinese chives), dallae (an onion-like herb known as wild rocambole), and the onion-like herb called honggeo (asafoetida). The reason these are prohibited is that they are pungent and strongly-flavored, and as such might distract practitioners from their mental discipline. Baru, a temple food restaurant, uses no osinchae at all, allowing Buddhist monks and nuns go there and dine with peace of mind. Incidentally, “baru” is a word for the rustic bowl from which monks and nuns eat their meals.
Introducing the Baru teukjeongsik: a special set meal
Yeonipcha (연잎차, Lotus leaf tea)
This mild tea clears the diner’s mind before the meal. It is made from lotus leaves grown right there at Baru.
Heungimja-juk (흑임자죽, black sesame porridge)
The meal started with black sesame porridge, which is good for your health.
Strawberries are what spring is all about! The strawberry salad exuded a delightful whiff of springtime.
Tangsui (탕수이, Sweet-and-sour mushrooms)
At Baru, instead of the more familiar tangsuyuk (‘yuk’ means meat; tangsuyuk usually refers to sweet-and-sour pork), they serve tangsui (‘i’ refers to mushrooms). I indulged in four varieties of mushrooms, neutari (oyster mushrooms), paengi (enoki mushrooms), saesongi (king oyster mushrooms), and moki-beoseot (tree ears), fried up in a yummy batter and dressed with sweet-and-sour tangsu sauce..
Although I’m already a big fan of pancakes, the sorghum pancake and its perfect accompaniment of sweet sesame sauce were so good, I came close to asking for a second helping.
Jeonbyeong-yachae-ssam (전병야채쌈, Small crepes and vegetable wraps)
A bite-sized wrap of vegetables inside a lovely tender jeonbyeong crepe~
Jeok-geundae-ssam (적근대쌈, Red Swiss Chard Wrap)
Sticky rice wrapped in a leaf of red Swiss chard. One bite and here’s the proof!
Sanchae-bibimbap (산채비빔밥, Rice mixed with wild mountain vegetables)
Since the food is prepared with great devotion at Baru, the courses are served at long intervals. If you go there, be sure to leave enough time to enjoy a leisurely meal. Located next to the Royal Tomb of King Muyeol, the restaurant is perfect for a stroll around the tomb before your meal.
* photography by Michael Harrison