Shojin ryori

3 minute read

I’m back from a trip to Japan where I made a delicious encounter with shojin ryori, the Buddhist monks’ cuisine. I had fabulous meal at Izusen, a restaurant in Daitokuji temple in Kyoto, where they specialise in teppatsu-ryori, a rather elaborate variation of Zen vegetarian cuisine. I arrived there quite late for lunch, around 2 p.m., so I was the only customer eating in their peaceful garden.

The meal started with a bowl of matcha (a kind of tea) and a sweet to accompany it :

The sweet was a kind of firm jelly rolled in (what I believe is) powdered roasted soybeans. The matcha was thick and foamy :

Next, I was served (what I think was) yuba in a creamy sesame sauce.

See how the food is beautifully presented? The monks (and nuns) that master this cuisine put all their heart and soul into the food, making it as appealing to the eyes than to the palate. They also use always fresh, in-season ingredients that are at their peak. Hence, they don’t use much seasoning to let the fresh ingredients express themselves.

The problem with my very limited Japanese is that I can ask what things are, but cannot understand fully the answers. As a result, I experienced wonderful food that I have absolutely no idea what it is, like this one :

The next course (yeah, there are a lot of ‘em) consisted of five small items :

Clockwise from top-left : a Japanese mountain potato with it’s skin, a small bowl of noodle-like food (no idea what it is), a firm jelly (made with agar-agar?) of rice and fruit juice (plum?), a skillfully cut tofu block, and finally a fried thing with a sweet green sauce (again, no idea what it was). Here is a close-up of the jelly to show it’s translucence:

Next was a vegetarian maki served on a shiso leaf …

…and a ume-tempura (fried Japanese plum) :

This ume tempura was uber-amazing. Sweet, tart, hot, crispy and soft all at the same time. It totally blew my mind. Really, it was that good. Soon enough, it was gone :

Next came another unidentified course, which was a kind of thick soup with toppings :

I think the toppings were ginger, fresh yuba and a root-vegetable.

The next dish made me fall in love with sesame tofu :

You have guessed it, the sesame tofu (which it made of sesame and starch, not soy like “real” tofu) is the beige cubes on the left, while the centerpiece is… well, I don’t know, buy it was delicious. (by the way, if you are a shojin ryori connoisseur, leave a comment to tell us what all those delicious unknown things are!)

The following course was vegetable tempura :

An the next was several small items :

I think it was fried tofu, Japanese squash, snow peas, and I think the cute pink flower was made of mochi (kind of sticky rice paste).

Just to make sure I was really full after this copious feast, they bring me a rice bowl (a meal is not a meal if you don’t have rice). I love the wooden bowl :

The end the meal beautifully, I had tea (I think it was kukicha) :

and an orange jelly served in an orange skin and topped with soy cream and mint:

The red bowls in which this meal is served are called “teppatsu”, and there are seven of them, all in assorted sizes so they that all nest nicely into one-another at the end of the meal.

I can say that this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, so if you go to Japan, find a temple were they serve food and try it; you won’t be disappointed.