[Seoul] Michelin stars have reached many parts of Asia, and to be honest, it does make the awards a lot less exclusive and sometimes actually quite predictable.
However, I was curious enough to want to try the one Michelin-starred Balwoo Gongyang 발우공양 which specialises in temple cuisine.
Have you ever tried Temple Cuisine?
“Temple cuisine” is a type of cooking that is vegan in nature and does not use pungent aromatics such as garlic, onion, green onion, leeks, and wild chives.
It is run by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, and offers food of practice that shares the history of 1,700 years of Korean Buddhism.
Balwoo Gongyang, founded in 2009, offers “high quality cooking that’s worth a stop”.
Despite the absence of pungent aromatics, the dishes are said to boast of deep flavours from the use of aged temple-made red chili paste, soy bean paste, and soy sauce, with recipes handed down in Korean temples.
While the restaurant is not located within a temple, it is situated right opposite the iconic Jogyesa Temple (조계사) on the 5th storey of Templestay Integrated Information Center.
It is about 200m from No. 6 Exit of Anguk Station of Subway No.3 Line.
Lunch would make a more affordable option, with two timeslots: 11:30am – 1:20pm or 1:30pm-3pm.
In Buddhism, eating is part of the practice to enlightenment and divided into 5 categories: Seon, Won, Maeum, Hee, and Beop.
Start off with the most basic course, Seon (Meditation) for only 30,000 Won. Seon directs a joy of Samadhi, a state of consciousness achieved through meditation.
Won signifies a righteous wish, while Maeum refers to one’s mindfulness. These courses are priced 45,000 Won and 65,000 Won, respectively.
Hee pertains to the bliss of the moment. The Hee (Joy) Course (95,000 won) requires only 1 day reservation.
The Beop Course (150,000 Won) to taste the best temples food as you listen to the chef’s cooking demonstration and food explanation. For a party of 4 or more, order at least 3 days in advance.
Menu is seasonal. All vegetables used are 100% local and organic. You won’t find ingredients with ethyl alcohol, fructose, additives, and preservatives. They also do not use dairy nor egg products in any of their dishes.
I went for the Seon Set for 30,000 Won (SGD34.80, USD25.35).
It is a multi-course meal comprising of Suljuksim(Amuse-bouche), Muhwagwa & Omija-cheong (Fig & omija-berry syrup), Juksang(Porridge), Danhobakjuk & yeongeun-mul-kimchi (Sweet pumpkin porridge & watery lotus root kimchi), Sangmi (Salad or Cold Preparation), Dammi(Starter or Hot Preparation), Youmi (Main Course), and Ipgasim (Dessert).
This may sound like a lot of food, but due to the portion and simplicity of the cooking, you are likely to walk out not feeling overly full.
The meal was a lot more muted than what I had expected (we do get quite a bit of vegetarian meals back home), and you would expect most of the flavours to come in rather subtlety.
I was slightly disappointed that most dishes tasted like pre-cooked food in batches, something you may not expect from a Michelin-starred aside. Well, that aside…
The highlight dish was definitely the Deep-fried Assorted Mushrooms seasoned with chili sauce with juicy mushrooms having a light crisp on the outside, the sauce flavourful and not greasy.
Overall, a good to go once place?
Diners have their meal in private dining rooms in which it is just you (very light music), the food and companion. With that silence all around, you do focus a lot more on food and contemplate about life.
Balwoo Gongyang 발우공양
5F, Templestay Integrated Information Center, 56, Wooguk-gu, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울시 종로구 견지동 71
Tel: +82 2 733 2081
Opening Hours: 11:30am – 3pm; 6pm – 9:30pm (Mon – Sat), Closed Sun
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