Sunday, December 7, 2008

Buddhist Vegetarian Restaurant

Despite the extremely cold weather, a few friends and I ventured to Insadong for lunch. Our destination was Sanchon, a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant. I loved the narrow alleyways leading to the restaurant: We never would have found this restaurant on our own. Fortunately, we happened to find the Sanchon food store on the main road. From there, we saw a sign for the restaurant.

(Above photo courtesy of Studio Sans)
We removed our shoes at the entrance and placed them in cubbies. Then the hostess led us through this spacious area to our table:

Sanchon serves a standard 20-dish meal for a reasonable 22,000W (about $15.20) at lunch. The menu varies according to season and revolves around Korean vegetables from the mountains or woods. We received a paper menu that listed the courses. The reverse side contained a New York Times article from 1986 about the place. According to the article, the owner was a Buddhist monk from age 14 to 32, where he learned the ins-and-outs of temple cooking.

Anyway, back to our lunch:

Before I could remove my coat, a server placed several dishes on our table. The bowls were made of a reddish-brown wood from the zelkova tree. (Traditionally a Buddhist monk carries a set of wooden bowls.)
(Photo courtesy of A.Z.)

The appetizer, lower left, was a porridge of barley and vegetables. It tasted mild and refreshing. The bowl on the right contained winter kimchi. The watery broth was deceiving; the contents were quite spicy. (For my tastes, anyway!) The little vermicelli wraps contained radish, mushrooms, peppers and other vegetables. A dipping sauce added flavor. We had unlimited tea for beverage.

Next came seven wild vegetables, each with their own seasonings. The center dish contained a mix of greens and tofu.

Then the servers brought a slew of dishes. At left, lettuce with a tasty dressing and, at right, kimchi. In the back, another kimchi that my friends loved (and I spit out!)

At top, a green vegetable that might have been cilantro. At left, a mildly sweetened mix of giant mushroom caps and a root vegetable. At right, a root that has been pounded and seasoned until edible.

At left, fried kelp. What a great source of iodine, among other nutrients. At right, seasoned mushrooms.

My friend served a stew of mushrooms, radish, and tofu. Noodles at left and fried seasonal vegetable pancakes at right.

More fried food: seasonal vegetable fritters (lotus root, mushroom caps, and potato)

Side view of a fritter. Fortunately the wooden chopsticks were much easier to use than the typical metal ones!

The seasoned root and a mangled pancake.

And, finally, a dessert of sticky rice pastry. The puffs were very light and chewy in the center.

What an enjoyable and interesting meal. The variety of foods was pretty exhausting. I think I've had my fill of Buddhist vegetarian food for the time being!


Tia said...

Looks like one of your best food experiences!

Rebecca said...

What beautiful pictures! I doubt I'd try many of the foods though :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, so interesting! Buddhist vegetarian food from Vietnam is way different than what you ate in Korea. No kimchi that's for sure :) More like typical rice, savory veggies, mung bean dishes for protein, and probably not too much of a flavor shock for you as this 20-dish meal was! I try anything, but have never really acquired a taste for kimchi :)

MandyKat said...

Tram - Mung bean dishes sound interesting! I have not tried mung beans before. You do seem adventurous with your food choices!

Becky & Mom - Thanks for the compliments. Becky, you probably would not have even liked the rice! Seriously!

Trvlgyrl said...

You forgot to mention about how you took a bite of something (sweet potato) and put it back on the communal plate! Your pictures turned about pretty good and you have a good memory! I thought the experience was worth it (plus the company :o)

MandyKat said...

Thanks a lot for reminding me, Sandy! At least I left the rest for you.