Buddhist cooking is beginning to make a big splash on the international culinary stage. And apparently, New York foodies are hungry for this niche cuisine.
Over 330 New Yorkers have signed up to taste Korean Buddhist temple fare and receive hands-on cooking instruction from Korean Buddhist nun, renowned chef, and author Beop Song this fall. From September 26-28, the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism—the largest Buddhist order in Korea—is hosting its fourth annual Korean Temple Cultural Week. Held at the Astor Center in Manhattan, gastronauts of all faiths will gather to learn about Korean monastic culture and taste flavors from 1,700 years of the country’s culinary heritage.
Song will be making a special trip from her home monastery in Daejeon City, South Korea, to oversee workshops, lectures, cooking demonstrations, and tastings.
The three-day cultural event sold out in record time, according to event organizers. (There is a waitlist.)
Those still interested in Korean culinary arts, meditation, and traditional monastic life can participate in an overnight stay at six regional temples around New York and New Jersey as part of the 2017 Korean Templestay program.
In Korea, temple food is considered part of a wider meditative practice known as baru gongyang, which involves a way of eating suffused with gratitude. During meals, practitioners reflect upon where their food has come from and all beings involved in the preparatory process. Before taking their first bite, monks and nuns will chant:
Where has this food come from?
My virtues are so few that I am hardly worthy to receive it. I will take it as medicine to get rid of greed in my mind and to maintain my physical being in order to achieve enlightenment.
Song, who has authored several cookbooks, teaches traditional Korean temple cooking at culinary institutions all over the world. She will be serving several of her famed signature dishes during Cultural Week.
Using fresh ingredients from Korea’s Gangwon Province, Song will prepare a four-course dinner each night for select guests inspired by “monastic dining” and the landscape of her native country. The first course emulates breakfast served in a mountain temple, with gamja on-sim-e juk, or a potato dumpling porridge with sweet pumpkin, zucchini, and shiitake mushrooms, accompanied by miyeok-gui tuigak, or crispy sea mustard, foraged from the East Sea of Korea. Seaweed holds special significance for Korean monastics, as it is the first food eaten after monks shave their heads during an ordination ceremony. Song’s second dish, bae-naengmyeon, is a chilled pear noodle soup paired with a buckwheat crepe filled with aged kimchi.
When your taste buds tire, you can try your hand at woodblock printing—a centuries-old method used in East Asia and China to assemble and bind Buddhist texts by carving letters on woodblocks and pressing them onto paper.
There will also be guided workshops on making lotus lanterns out of traditional Korean paper hanji and decorative hand fans. Once you’ve satiated your arts-and-crafts fix, you’ll have the chance to share a cup of tea with a Korean monk and ask any Buddhist- or practice-related questions you’ve had on your mind.
Whether you’re a seasoned Buddhist practitioner or an enlightened epicurean, you won’t need to use your airline miles to “Seoulsearch.”
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