Specialty Restaurants for Temple Food: Hyang Juk Won & Baru

Temple Food
Hyang JukWon

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)
The eggplant and squash kind of look like a person, don’t you think? This nicely-prepared dish of eggplant and orange squash was incredibly delicious.

Pyogo-tangsu (표고탕수, Sweet-and-sour shiitake mushrooms)
 A fantastic blend of sweet-and-sour tangsu sauce and shiitake mushrooms! All the colors of the rainbow--red, purple, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet--can be glimpsed in this single dish.

Kong-gogi-chapsal-gui (콩고기 찹살구이, Grilled soy protein & glutinous rice)
Before entering the temple, monks and nuns had childhoods no different from the rest of us. That is, they ate hamburgers and pizza. So, a kind of temple food was devised to satisfy the tastes of young initiates. It’s soy protein with a texture reminiscent of meat, although it contains no meat.

Kong-katsu (콩가스, Soy cutlet)
It looks like ton-katsu (pork cutlet), but in reality it’s bean-katsu. Not only that, the condiment that looks like mayonnaise is definitely not mayonnaise, they say. It’s  Hyang Juk Won’s own special sauce that is a blend of ingredients like apples and vinegar.


Kong steak (콩스테이크, Soy Steak)
 The presentation of this dish is so beautiful, I want to sing its praises to the whole world.

Each time you go, it’s different
An abundance of different pure and delightful dishes that change all the time.

Yeonip-bap jeongsik (연잎밥정식, Set meal of lotus leaf steamed rice)
I had the set meal featuring lotus leaf packets filled with steamed rice, thoroughly appreciating the delicately-scented lotus leaf with my eyes, nose, and taste buds.
Each side dish has its own distinct character. Among them, I heard that the jangajji (pickled foods) are available for sale at Hyundai Department Store.
They told me that an employee from Hyundai Department Store visited Hyang Juk Won, tried the food, and then said the taste was exactly right and approached the restaurant about offering it for sale at the department store.

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.

Getting there

Located between Bulguksa Temple and the Bulguksa train station. Across from Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage
Add: 953-21, Ma-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongbuk, Korea
Tel: 054-775-0014

Temple Food
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. Temple food is not strong or spicy, so it is comforting and easy to digest.

Salad (샐러드)
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..

Nokdujeon susujeon (녹두전 수수전, Mungbean pancake and sorghum pancake lping)
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)
The bibimbap was made with all kinds of wild mountain vegetables, served in a baru (traditional Buddhist bowl), alongside some juinuni doenjang-jjigae (bean paste stew). This particular kind of doenjang-jjigae was made with small juinuni beans. I heard that the small size of the bean accounts for the name juinuni, which means “mouse’s eye.”

Getting there

Beside Royal Tomb of King Taejong
Add: 953-21, Ma-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongbuk, Korea
Tel: 054-775-0014

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


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