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Korean Buddhist temple food to go global

By Cho Chung-un, Horea Herald, Feb 8, 2012

Buddhist group to open temple food restaurant in Paris next year

Seoul, South Korea -- A Korean Buddhist group will soon bring temple food to the world as a part of its effort to introduce the 1,700 years of Korean Buddhist culture abroad.

<< Ven. Jihyun, director of Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism, an affiliate of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism ( Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

“Korean Buddhist temple foods have been drawing attention from the health-conscious in North America and Europe,” Ven. Jihyun, director of Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism, an affiliate of Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, told The Korea Herald on Tuesday.

“We will seek ways of both modernizing the recipes and also preserving the traditional style of temple food before entering the market next year.”

The group plans to open the first temple food restaurant on the rooftop at Galeries Lafayette in Paris next year.

“We will build a ‘hanok’ (traditional Korean house) on the rooftop of the well-known department store in Paris and will start to serve temple food there probably next year. The project has been suggested by Lafayette, which is trying to capture the growing number of Parisians interested in nutritious vegetarian food,” Jihyun said.

A joint venture between the cultural arm of the Jogye and Galeries Lafayette, the restaurant was initially planned to open in May this year. But due to some administrative delays, the plan has been postponed to next year, he said.

The temple food project will be taken to other countries too. The religious group will hold a seminar on temple food in the U.S. and also participate in ITV, an international tourism exhibition in Germany this year.

To better develop temple cuisine, a team is working on collecting recipes that monks across the country have kept for hundreds of years.

“It is a tremendous work. But I think it is something that has to be done in order to bring temple food, one of the greatest assets of Korean Buddhist culture, to the world,” he said.

Temple food can be best described as food that Buddhist monks eat. Comprised mostly of wild vegetables, roots and husks of trees cultivated in mountainous regions, seasonings are used sparingly to enhance the original taste and flavor of the main ingredients.

Finding the right ingredients for temple food overseas could be a problem.

“We will seek ways to modernize or localize temple food for Europeans. We will probably send the main seasonings made here to Paris, but the rest of the ingredients will be from local markets,” Jihyun explained.

The temple food project is the latest project to promote Korean Buddhist culture. The Jogye Order has been running Templestay, a cultural program that allows people to stay in mountainside temples and participate in Zen meditation, early-morning chanting and daily chores, since 2002.

“The Templestay program has been praised by the foreign press as a good example of a theme-based tourist attraction. It is a cultural experience program designed to help visitors better understand Buddhism in Korea and it has also contributed to enhancing Korea’s image abroad,” he said.

The number of temples offering Templestay programs across the country has surged from 33 in 2002 to 118 last year. About 1.7 million people have participated in the program so far. In 2011 alone about 190,000 people, including 25,000 foreign travelers, joined the program, officials at the group said.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary, the Buddhist group will hold a series of events from May to October. It plans to focus on developing programs to embrace those having difficulties in marriage, family issues and society as a whole.

“Templestay offers people a chance to look into themselves and helps them to build a life of their own by having a moment of meditation in the beautiful temples across the country,” the director said. “Through Templestay program, we will keep listening to people and help them to heal their wounded soul and body.”

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