Saturday, November 25, 2017

Jinkwansa Temple: Cooking Class and Tea with a Monk

Jinkwansa Temple hosted a special food exhibition and contacted Sonja Glaeser, Founder and CEO of Hippie-Korea, a private travel group based in Suwon, to see if she could organize a group for the event. One reason Jinkwansa contacted Sonja is because she had told them about her travel group when she had very recently applied to do volunteer work with them, and the second reason was they needed a travel group who would be willing to be filmed for an upcoming Buddhist program while experiencing Jinkwansa's famed temple food.

About 25 people attended this spontaneously organized program, and I rather doubt anyone regretted it, despite the pouring rain. The food was fabulous, but then of course it was. Jinkwansa is a biguni (Buddhist nun) temple that is renowned as a temple food mecca. The head nun-monk, Ven. Gyeho, is around 70 years old and is the epitome of positivity, good health and food knowledge. While demonstrating the fine-cutting of veggies, she challenged anyone to compete with her cutting speed. No one did, and the only person who ever did and out-cut her was when former US President Obama recently came on tour to the temple and his private chef accepted the challenge. The chef not only out-chopped the monk but his cuts were even finer! To test how fine the finely cut veggies are, they are flung against a whiteboard and in such fine pieces they don't have much weight to make them fall off. Obama's chef's veggie whisps stuck for an impressively long time!

The Garden of Mind, Jinkwansa Temple (so-called on the brochure)

Jinkwansa Temple, located to the west of Seoul, is one of the four major temples around Seoul. The temple was dedicated to Preceptor Jinkwan in 1010 BC by King Hyeongjong, the 8th king of the Goryeo Dynasty. The temple is not situated amidst the beautiful surroundings of Bukhansan National Park, but also contains an impressive collection of cultural and historical properties.

Jinkwansa Temple is known for its temple food - natural homegrown veggies, prepared in person and with no commercial elements. As everything done at the temple is considered part of religious practice, from growing nuts and preparing doengjang, monastic practitioners give thanks while preparing and while eating. 
Sachal-mandoo (temple veggie dumplings) 
1 zucchini
3 dried shiitake mushroom (traditional belief - more vitamins in the dried ones)
1/4 tofu brick
2 T pine nuts
1 handful mung bean sprouts
1/4 carrot
salt and black pepper
sesame oil
sesame seeds
dumpling wrappers
  1. Soak shiitake mushrooms in water then drain by squeezing. Thinly slice and stir-fry with salt.
  2. Thinly slice zucchini and carrot. Also stir-fry in salt.
  3. Blanch mung bean sprouts and remove water by squeezing.
  4. For tofu, wrap in cheesecloth and squeeze out excess water.
  5. Mix all ingredients and season with salt, sesame oil, sesame seeds and black pepper = filling
  6. Place about 1 T of filling in the center of a dumpling wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half, lightly wipe wrapper perimeter with water to help create a seal, then pinch and crimp together the folded edges.
  7. Steam dumplings for 15+ minutes until wrappers become somewhat transparent.
After the head monk demonstrated how to make sachal-mandoo, we went back to long tables and in groups of four cut up our small bunch of veggies and tofu, seasoned everything and experienced wrapping the filling with store-bought mandoo-wraps (too tlabor-intensive for us to mix our own dough, let it set for a few hours, then pound it out flat). Then in teams we brought our contributions to the front and put them in the large communal pot for steaming. 

After we had all prepared our mandoo, we then were taken to another hall and experienced a huge spread of vegan temple food! The food was laid out in two long tables, one table for the fruit desserts and dessert drinks like sikkye, while the other table was a huge spread of food dishes organized by fermented dishes, kimchis, root veggies and then green veggies. The perilla leaves in a soy and Asian pear sauce was the best! Never saw that dish before and too bad!

After eating and listening to an informative lecture on temple practices, we then enjoyed a very stylized tea with a monk, who explained the traditional practices of holding, serving and drinking tea. The monk was very specific about what is commonly taught as tea ceremony as being incorrect. One example she was most specific about is the taught practice of pouring the tea with one hand while gracefully holding the lid of the pot with the other. She said this would be absolutely rude as the sleeve or sleeves of one's robe would then be dragging or sometimes touching the tea cup or the food. 

This isn't a traditional tea service but is an individual arrangement.
Everyone had their own pot of tea and could pour their own tea at will, something that certainly would be unacceptable in the traditional tea ceremony where a person is designated to pour and serve using correct etiquette. Quite the nice modern tea ceremony, however!

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