Seoul, Korea

  • Date
  • 22 May 1999

Sun-Hee Hong, a reporter from the English-language newspaper Korean Times, along with two of her colleagues took us to a quaint restaurant called Sanch’on (means mountain village in Korean). Established by a former Buddhist monk who left the monastery at age 32 and decided to spread temple cooking to a larger audience.

Temple cuisine, which relies on fresh vegetables, grew out of Korean religious history. During the Yi Dynasty (1392 to 1910) Confucianism edged out Buddhism as the predominant religion in Korea and Buddhist monks were ousted and forced to live in remote mountains. Without much money, monks had to find their meals and discovered many wild, edible plants.

The entrance to Sanch’on has a courtyard full of stones and large jars of kimchee, the fire-hot red pickled cabbage that is a Korean staple. At the door, shoes are taken off before entering a large room with dark wooden beams and several low tables with cushions. There are two preset menus to chose from.

Sun-Hee ordered for us. We ate:

  • Wild sesame and rice gruel
  • Tasty beancurd made with pure salt water
  • Turnip mushrooms, peppers and other vegetables wrapped in thin vermicelli pancake
  • Seven wild vegetables each with its own seasonings
  • Kimchee
  • Fresh lettuce in seasonings (bean paste, red pepper paste and rice wine)
  • Three kinds of deep fired seasonal vegetable pancakes (mushroom, wild vegetables, sesame leaves)
  • Three kinds of pan fried seasonal vegetable pancakes (pumpkin, lotus root, corn)
  • Special chopsuey made with a variety of mush rooms and vegetables
  • Small potatoes glazed with soy sauce and taffy
  • Seasoned wild mountain roots (todok, a relative of ginseng)
  • Steamed rice, beans, millet
  • Soybean stew and mushrooms, turnip, red peppers, beancurd
  • Traditional temple tea made from five oriental medicinal herbs
  • Korean traditional snack made with beans with sticky rice