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By Way of Korea

South Korea   |   New York

A Korean food blog and travelogue inspired by

an epicurious New Yorker's journey around South Korea


Korean Temple Cuisine Restaurant Opened by a Former Buddhist Monk (Insadong, Seoul)

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

A feeling of wonder never escapes me whenever I return to the lively streets of Insadong. Pairs of gloved hands shaping and dusting fine, saccharine strings of dragon's beard candy, the master of confections in hanbok cutting up pieces of traditional Korean cookies, a chocolate-filled, turd-shaped bread stand just inside the vibrant Ssamziegil Market - these are some of the whimsical sights and foods you most certainly can't miss while exploring the main pedestrianized road.

The ones you might miss, however, lie within the offshoots of this road. Walking into these side streets, I've often found myself navigating through labyrinths of alleys full of restaurants and teahouses. Among these alleyway gems, we found Sanchon, a restaurant opened by a former Buddhist monk who wanted to share the art of Korean temple cooking with the public.

A hanok illuminated by lanterns and adorned with beautiful Buddhist art welcomed us into its warmth. A woman appeared to instruct us to wash our hands at a sink and remove our shoes before guiding us to the dining area, where no other customers could be seen.

At the table, the cloth napkins greeted us with: "날마다 좋은날 되소서" (Have good day, every day). A pot of chrysanthemum tea warmed us up for the first course of a mostly plant-based, multi-course meal reflecting Korean temple cooking practices, which include the exclusion of meat and animal products, as well as the forgoing of osinchae, or the five "stimulants" (오신채) that are believed to incite anger and libido: garlic, onion, green onion, chive, and leek. To experience temple food without these five ingredients, they recommend that you call in advance to give them notice. Otherwise, they use them in moderation to cater more closely to the public's palate.

A sweet and fragrant apertif - house-made pear and pine needles aged four months - was served with mul-kimchi (watery kimchi), danhobak-juk (kabocha porridge), and a platter of haecho-ryu (varieties of seeweed) and lotus root glazed with yuzu sauce. Each kind of seaweed - from the green gossamer squares of maesaengi (seaweed fulvescens) to the fried, grain-coated laver chips - boasted its own hue, texture, and flavor, showcasing the variety and versatility the aquatic plants offer as ingredients in cooking.

A lightly battered and fried napa cabbage leaf followed as a jeon dish. Accustomed to eating napa cabbage in a salted and fermented state (kimchi), I was surprised by its sweetness. We were kindly reminded to leave some room in our stomachs for the amount of food yet to come, but I couldn't help but continue to pick at it until it was nearly gone.

Only when the next round of food arrived did I begin to regret not eating more sparingly; it consisted of ten varieties of banchan and seven wild herbs and vegetables served in beautiful zelkova wood bowls, soybean paste stew, and rice in a hot stone pot. The presentation alone was something to be admired.

After scooping out the rice with chestnut, date, and gingko nuts into a separate bowl, we poured the hot water that was provided into the pot to eat the nurunji (scorched rice).

The dwenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew) was teeming with mushrooms, tofu, and greens.

An assortment of chips potato, sweet potato, lotus, and yugwa (a fried rice flour confection) concluded our repast.

After having indulged in a near-daily regimen of noodles, pork, and fried foods all week, I had been desperate for a lean and green meal. I left Sanchon feeling lean though full of greens. But I was also full of thoughts about flavor. My taste buds, so often overstimulated by salt, sugar, and spice, had been compelled to recalibrate to appreciate the natural flavors of foods in, or very close to, their naked forms. The humbly-seasoned ingredients made a bold statement about how less is sometimes more.

* Though most of the dishes qualify as vegan, I'm not 100% confident that honey wasn't used in a couple of the dishes. But I can say, with certainty, that this meal was completely vegetarian.



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"If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel - as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them - wherever you go."

Anthony Bourdain's unmatched relish for adventure and humble approach to food, cultures, and humanity left an indelible impression on my younger self. Imparting on me the courage to veer into the unknown, he inspired me to embrace my vulnerabilities and seek adventures and growth beyond the comforts of home.


In July of 2017, I boarded a one-way flight to Seoul, South Korea. Within the first week of arrival, I signed a lease for an apartment and by the end of August, I had accepted a job offer that relocated me to Pyeongchang and Gangneung, where the Winter Olympics were soon to be held. From there, I had the rare opportunity to explore much of the greater Gangwon Province's beautiful mountainous and coastal regions and their distinctive foods. Once or twice a month, I'd return to Seoul or travel to an unfamiliar region to poke around alleyways, markets, and mountains in search of more good eats and adventures.


By Way of Korea is a storytelling project inspired by the food, places, and faces I encountered throughout Korea. By sharing my fondest memories, notes, and images of Korea, I simply hope to play a small part in piquing greater curiosity about Korean food and culture in my readers.  My content will heavily spotlight, but not be limited to Korean food and culture. 

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