Korean Buddhist temple cooking has been preserved by Buddhist nuns for over 1,600 years. One of its practitioners, Jeong Kwan, has been celebrated by chefs such as Eric Ripert from Le Bernardin in New York City. Korean temple cuisine is vegan, made without meat, fish, dairy, garlic, or onions. Layers of flavor are achieved through use of fermented, pickled, and dried ingredients. The preparation and consumption of the food are seen as part of Buddhist practice. [more inside]
These days, spice is integral to ideas of kimchi in both the West and Korea—it’s always a funny game trying to convince various restaurant ladies here that I can, in fact, eat kimchi without spewing two ribbons of fire from my nostrils, thereby singing the wallpaper and confirming their suspicions that we white folks are just a bunch of food pussies. “Maeun-kot” (“spicy shit!”), they say, making flamey-flamey motions with their hands; “Yes,” I say, “Maeun umshik-ul chal mogoyo” (“I can eat spicy food, no lie, please stop looking at me like I’m a recalcitrant goat who’s about to try to eat a roll of barbed wire”).