I guess my vision was out of focus, as I
expected a group of inspired Buddhists clus-
tered around the threshold of a temple to be
savoring a piece of mugwort when I decided to
visit Sudosa, a renowned temple in Pyeong-
taek, Gyeonggi province.
Venerable Jeongmun, an expert on temple
food, provides food tours to visitors at Sudosa,
focusing on vegetarian meals that use only nat-
It was interesting to spend a few hours
with Venerable Jeongmun, a quiet man who
speaks in implicit metaphors. “The essence of
temple food is for monks to safely endure their
ascetic practice. If you get deep into medita-
tion, all kinds of thoughts could disturb your
mind,” he said. Pausing, he added, “So there
are some monks who would use their sexual
energy on the divine level to ensure the evolu-
tion of the universe.” The connections become
somewhat obvious as you see him blush.
The class last week was for young house-
wives. The recipes focused on children’s
snacks: fried tofu topped with black sesame
seeds and stir-fried mushrooms and bamboo
shoots on rice. Surely it was a nutritious meal,
made with fresh ingredients like shiitake
mushrooms, bamboo shoots and vegetables.
What made the session particularly memo-
rable for me, though, was that the housewives
didn’t hesitate to hide their secular culinary
tastes. As soon as the class was over, one stu-
dent carefully suggested the group make
instant noodles as a snack. By the time this was
happening, the monk, who had spent hours
talking about the dangers of feeding instant
food to children, was at lunch.
Within a minute, a woman brought a huge
pot of water to boil the ramyeon, shyly hand-
ing plastic bowls to our photographer and me.
There were fresh plates of stir-fried mush-
rooms on rice in the center of the table, still
emitting steam. Everyone was encouraging
one another to try the dish. But only a few stu-
dents were reluctantly stir-
ring their spoons in the food.
The rest were busy slurping
down the greasy, chemical
broth of the instant noodles