Essays

Korean Temple Food (1)

Baked Squash (pumpkin)


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In Korean Buddhist Temples, monks and nuns have a special diet. They do not eat any meat or fish as they are considered to be foods which cannot be eaten in temples as they are considered to be intoxicants – the only animal product considered acceptable is milk. In addition, monks and nuns do not eat five vegetables which are called ‘hot’ in flavor. These are: green onions, onions, garlic, leeks, a wild rocambole.
 
The Mahaparnirvana Sutra (The Book of the Great Decease) mentions that the taking of meat and fish cuts the seed of compassion; the Lankavatara Sutra explains that birds and animals might be the reincarnation of our parents, siblings and friends from previous lives. Also these ‘intoxicants’ disturb our senses and so do not help us on the path to wisdom, resulting in wrong actions and many mistakes. These are the main reasons for the prohibitions. In addition, in the Surangama Sutra it is said that these five ‘hot’ flavored vegetables, when fresh, affect our thinking and lead us to obscene thoughts, and when cooked they stimulate our anger. All of these are obstacles that deter us from practice. At first glance, temple food seems to be the same as other vegetarian food, for only vegetables are used – excluding garlic and onions and so on. The main difference with other vegetarian food is that temple food is considered an important means for encouraging spiritual practice, and thus it differs from ordinary vegetarian food.
 
What do the practitioners have for their meals? The Ekottaragama Sutra says. “ All rules in the world begin from the taking of food. Beings do not exist without food.” In another sutra the Buddha explains, “ Food is medicine.” This is the truly correct attitude that we should have when we see food and partake of it in temple life. There the food is not taken for the pleasure of the taste or the desire to eat, but for sustaining the body with the necessary but minimal nutrition and quantity in order to gain the best results in practice.
 

This Week’s Recipe
Baked Squash (pumpkin)

Squash is good for all people who do not have a strong constitution. It is like the elixir of life. This is because it is rich in vitamins A, B, C, and more. Therefore it is good to take it in the winter as it supplies extra nutrition for the cold weather. Squash is particularly recommended for people suffering from diabetes, over-weight, recovering from an illness, and it helps to prevent high blood pressure.
 
[RECIPE INGREDIENTS]
1 Squash
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
 
Hot Sauce:
1 tsp. red bean paste
1 Tbs. vinegar
1 Tbs. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
 
* Korean red paste, gochujang, is a dark red, sicey paste made from fermented soy beans and red pepper. It is used to season stews and soups. Once opend it keeps well in the fridge for at least a year.
 
[RECIPE METHOD]
1. Mix hot sauce ingredients together.
2. Slice the Squash into rounds, 1/4-inch thick.
3. Fry briefly in the vegetable oil.
4. Sprinkle hot sauce between each layer.
 
 

About the Author

Jung Lee (1945~)

As a photographer and educator, Lee lived in New York City, for over 20 years studying and working. Her photographs have successfully promoted many products. Lee now lives in Seoul, Korea and is promoting Korean traditional culture and heritage worldwide.