Where can you go for dinner in Seoul if you are a strict vegetarian? Sanchon in Insadong serves great Korean vegan temple food.
side dishes including sweet potatoes in a sugar glaze at Sanchon Temple Vegetarian Restaurant
We spent a leisurely couple of hours here in the calm atmosphere. Sanchon is in the old part of town in Insadong. There are lots of tourists in the area at this time of year but the restaurant is down an alley away from the crowds and when we got there for a late lunch (they serve lunch until 4pm) there were only a couple of other customers there.
The restaurant is located at the very end of this alley. Coming from exit 6 Anguk station, go straight down the main shopping road through Insadong and turn left at the curly yellow ice cream cone shop. There is a small sign here.
When I think of temple food, I think of very subtle flavours because garlic and chilli are traditionally not used. (On the menu it states that temple food does not contain 5 stimulants: onions, green onions, baby garlic, green peppers, and honggo.) Happily they do use these ingredients at the restaurant but you can ask them not to use them if you prefer less spicy flavours or want a more authentic experience.
The ingredients change a bit throughout the year depending on the season. Our course began with an appetiser of pumpkin and adzuki bean porridge, mulgimchi (radish), and seaweed (with a spicy, garlicy sauce). This course was served with a pot of mulberry tea.
The next course included jellied acorn with seaweed (top left) sticky rice with leaves marinated in soy sauce ( top right) yam with seaweed (middle right) Deep fried kelp (bottom left) ‘dhania’ leaves (aka – cilantro / coriander) I was surprised to have this flavour as I didn’t think it was used in Korean cooking and I have yet to meet a Korean who actually likes it! There are three of everything on the plate as there were three of us 😉 This course was served with pine tea which had a strong aroma and we were told is ‘slightly alcoholic’.
Another plate soon arrived with three types of savoury pancakes (전), a salad of various spring leaves and mushroom, and two potato dishes. The restaurant uses wooden bowls and cutlery (like they use in the temple) rather than the usual metal utensils found in regular restaurants.
I love the colours of the dishes especially the middle pancake which has a touch of colour from an edible purple flower.
For the next course we were served a bowl of rice – a mix of white rice and sticky rice and beans – along with various side dishes of namul and kimchi below.
The greens include spinach and minari (water dropwort). They are mixed with bean paste or salt and sesame oil.
Some of the flavours were quite strong particularly the leek (below picture – top left) which tasted as though it had been marinated for a while in soy sauce and garlic. The garlic marinated in soy sauce (centre) was good too, as well as the fried glutinous mushrooms in a spicy seasoning (bottom centre). A Korean meal wouldn’t be complete without a soup or stew – this course came with a large pot of 찌개 jji-gae Korean bean paste stew with tofu. Three portions come in one pot so someone has to be Mother!
Although this is temple food, alcohol is available and we managed to get through a couple of bottles of makkoli too before moving onto a dessert of light, sweet rice cakes served with sujeonggwa (수정과, Korean Cinnamon tea). All very lovely.