In recent years, a growing interest in Korean cuisine has led to Korean restaurants and supermarkets popping up across London and other parts of the UK. The KCCUK has been at the forefront of promoting Korean food and drink through a variety of programmes and events including our K-Cuisine Workshops at Westminster Kingsway College and Le Cordon Bleu, along with more specialist classes on kimchi and makgeolli (Rice Wine).
Throughout history Korean people have maintained the belief that food and medicine have the same origin and therefore perform similar functions. They believe that good health depends on the food we consume and how we eat it. Traditional Korean medicine, therefore, relies on the basic principle that we should use medicine only after our diets have failed us.
This page focuses on hansik as the foundation of a healthy diet. We introduce Korean Buddhist temple food and the process of fermentation that makes kimchi and other Korean dishes so nutritious. We have also recommended some healthy recipes to try while you are stuck at home, and there’s even a sneak peek at our upcoming Korean food-related events, scheduled for the second half of 2020.
Korean Temple Food
When talking about healthy food in Korea, it is impossible not to mention temple food – the cuisine eaten daily at Buddhist temples. From growing vegetables to preparing the food, monks and nuns are directly involved in the whole process. They prepare only as much as they need, leaving no waste – which makes temple cuisine not only healthy but more environmentally sustainable.
Korean temple food does not use meat or artificial flavours. The dietary culture of Korean Buddhism is shaped by a reverence for life, and as the Buddha said in the Nirvana Sutra, “Eating meat extinguishes the seeds of compassion.” It is also prohibited to use the “five pungent herbs” or o-sin-chae (onions, garlic, chives, green onions and leeks) because their strong flavour hinders spiritual practice.
Instead, the development of natural seasonings such as mushroom powder, kelp powder, perilla seed powder, and uncooked bean powder adds nourishment and flavour to the healthy cuisine.
From temple to kitchen – recipes to try at home
If you’re visiting Korea and are keen to experience temple-inspired fine dining, we highly recommend the Michelin Star restaurant Balwoo Gongyang in Insadong, Seoul.
But there’s no need to go all the way to Korea for authentic temple food. Korean Temple Food, which offers cooking classes in Seoul, has uploaded a substantial number of recipe videos to its website – so you can try temple cooking from your home in the UK or anywhere in the world.
Why not try out this recipe for Cheese and Dubu-jeon (Tofu Pancake), a healthy variation on pizza with simple ingredients that can easily be found in the UK…?
Other recipes include temple-style variations on popular Korean dishes, including kimchi and tteok-bokki (Stir-fried Rice Cake). With many people currently stuck at home and keen to try something new, we hope to give you some inspiration for healthy and unique Korean dishes that will impress the whole family.
And if you do try making any of these temple foods at home, make sure to upload your pictures and videos to social media and tag us @kccuk!
Vegetarian cuisine in Korea
As most Korean temples are located in the mountains, providing easy access to wild roots, stems, leaves, fruits and flowers, monks and nuns have naturally become leaders in shaping vegetarian culture. But vegetarianism in Korea is not confined to these mountain temples.
It is now increasingly common for restaurants in Korea to offer vegetarian or vegan variations on popular dishes – and you can try these at home as well. To get you started, why not have a go at this recipe for Japchae (Stir-fried Glass Noodles and Vegetables)?
For a bit more of a challenge, you could try chef Judy Joo’s recipe for vegetarian Sundubu-jjigae (Soft Tofu Stew). In this video, Judy visits a temple food restaurant and shows you how to make Sundubu-jjigae with a step-by-step recipe.
Kimchi, the secret to a long life?
The process of fermentation is a key element in traditional Korean cooking. Common fermented ingredients include Doenjang (Soybean Paste), Ganjang (Soy Sauce) and Gochu-jang (Red Chili Paste). But the most famous of all fermented foods in Korea is, of course, kimchi – a spicy cabbage side dish that accompanies all Korean meals.
Kimchi has gained attention worldwide as a super-food known for its nutritional value, with some citing it as the reason for the relatively long life expectancy in Korea. There are numerous variations using different vegetables and flavours, but the most common type of kimchi is made by mixing salted white cabbage with a paste made of chili powder, garlic, spring onion, Korean radish ginger, fish sauce and fresh seafood.
Kimchi can be eaten fresh but is normally fermented over a period of several days. Some prefer mugeunji (Ripe Kimchi) which requires a more thorough process of fermentation lasting over a year.
Kimjang refers to the collective preparation of kimchi in late autumn, when traditionally families get together to make large batches of kimchi and share it with other households in the community. This ensures that every household has enough of each type of kimchi to sustain them through the winter. In 2013, Kimjang was listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
A sneak peek at our hansik events coming up in 2020
For something to look forward to once the situation in the UK returns to normal, we’d like to offer a sneak peak of the Korean cuisine-related events we have planned for the second half of 2020.
First of all, we’ll be inviting the Buddhist nun and internationally acclaimed chef Beop Song to present a temple food cooking class. Beop Song is a temple food expert and leading practitioner who has been sharing her knowledge of the cuisine and its philosophy with institutions and chefs all over the world.
We are also excited to be joined by Tae-Yeol Kim for an introduction to traditional Korean alcohol. As well as being the recipient of several awards for bartending and cocktail making, Kim is an ambassador for traditional Korean liquor, appointed by the Korean Traditional Alcohol Association.
These events are designed to provide a rare opportunity for Londoners to learn about the lesser-known and more traditional aspects of Korean cuisine. Keep an eye out on our website and social media channels for updates and we hope to see you all there.