Korean Temple Food
With Gratitude for Life and Prayers for Peace

Characteristics of
Korean Temple Food

Food As

The prohibition of the five pungent
vegetables is a preventive measure to
guard Buddhist practitioners from
possible distractions during
meditation. In addition,
the prohibition is also meant to
prevent any attachment to the
flavor of strong spices, which may
also disturb practice.

Korean temple food does not use any animal
products except dairy products. Korean
Buddhism forbids meat. The Buddha said in
the Nirvana Sutra, “Eating meat extinguishes
the seeds of compassion.” Buddhism teaches
that compassion means to embrace all living
beings as oneself.

The dietary culture of
Korean Buddhism has always
held reverence for life.

Korean temple food has also traditionally
meant that monks and nuns do not use five
pungent vegetables (onions, garlic, chives,
green onions and leeks), these are called
the "o-shin-chae", because they hinder
spiritual practice.

These characteristics of temple food show how monastic meals are a means through
which Buddhist monks and nuns realize the interdependence of all lives and that they
must strive to establish a world in which all live together in harmony.

Instead of artificial flavors,
Korean temple food uses a variety of
mountain herbs and wild greens, which has
led to the development of a vegetarian
tradition. 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.

Also, natural seasonings
and flavor enhancers have
been developed.

Examples of common natural seasonings
used in temples are : mushroom powder,
kelp powder, jae-pi powder, perilla seed
powder, and uncooked bean powder.


These seasonings are used when making soup stock, kimchi and vegetable dishes,
correcting nutritional imbalance and enhancing flavors. Having been used in temples
since ancient times, these natural seasonings are emerging in modern times as a powerful
alternative to artificial flavorings which may be harmful to one’s health.


Korea has four distinct seasons, and all kinds of vegetables and plants are available
beginning in the spring. To keep these vegetables and plants for the winter, monks and
nuns developed various techniques for food preservation.
Besides the well-known kimchi and jang, other preserved foods include: jang-a-jji,
vegetables preserved in soy sauce, red pepper paste and soybean paste; vegetables pickled
in vinegar and salt; and vegetables preserved in salt. The advantage of these preserved
foods is that they can be stored for long periods of time with no loss of nutritional
value. They also supply nutrients that may be lacking in vegetables

A variety of fermented food is made at Korean
Buddhist temples. If cheese, yogurt and wine
are typical fermented food in the West, those
in Korea are kimchi, soy sauce, soybean paste,
red pepper paste, vinegar, rice punch,
and pine needle tea.

The various nutritive elements produced
through fermentation not only add a savory
flavor to the food but also lower the level of
cholesterol, have cancer-inhibiting qualities,
and guard the human body from many
age-related illnesses.

Health Food


The assorted vegetables and greens used in temple food contain abundant natural fiber
as well as carbohydrates and protein. Korean temple food is rich in various nutrients
but low in cholesterol. Although strictly vegetarian, temple food lacks nothing in
nutrition. It is advisable for anyone to use any or all of the ingredients of temple cuisine
in everyday life for healthier lives and to prevent age-related health problems.
The popularization of temple food would contribute to a healthier dietary life for
Koreans as well as global citizens.

When your knees are frozen like ice, do not think about resting in warmth
When your stomach is pierced by pain of hunger, do not think of eating

Balsim suhaeng jang (An Essay on Arising the Aspiration for Enlishtenment),
by Wonhyo (617-686, Buddhist Master from the Silla period)