Last month I visited Seoul, South Korea, for the first time. Here's a look at something I ate from my one-week trip.
It wasn't until I had asked friends for food recommendations in Seoul that I first heard of temple cuisine, traditional vegetarian (or vegan, to be more specific) food served at Buddhist temples. Because I can't just eat fried things and noodles all the time, I was grateful to come across Sanchon ("Mountain Village"), one of the most famous restaurants in Seoul (and worldwide) that specializes in temple-inspired cuisine, while walking around Insadong with Rachel Yang and her mother on my last full day in South Korea. The restaurant was opened in 1981 by Kim Yon Shik, a former Buddhist monk, who aside from being a restaurateur has also written three cookbooks about vegetarian cuisine. (For more information, you can read an interview with Kim Yon Shik at Hi Seoul.)
The restaurant is located at the end of a winding path in an old-fashioned house, making for a calm, secluded atmosphere in what is generally a busy area. After taking off your shoes you enter the house's courtyard—aka the dining room—decorated with beautiful handmade lotus-shaped lanterns. You have the choice between sitting at a regular table with chairs or low tables with cushions on the floor, but when I was there everyone chose the latter. (I preferred it; it made me feel closer to my eating companions and my food.) Keeping with Buddhist tradition, the utensils and most of the serving dishes are made of wood from the zelkova tree.
For ₩22,000 ($17.84) per person, the prix fixe lunch provided us with more than 20 dishes. They were mostly small portions of seasoned vegetable dishes, or namul in Korean, but it was still a lot of food. And to be honest, I don't know exactly what I ate. There were many unidentifiable forest and mountain vegetables seasoned with sesame oil, one of my favorite seasonings. Aside from the variety of seasoned vegetables, there was also japchae, pan-fried pancakes, soybean stew, and tofu.