A Buddhist Feast in ‘Sanchon’ and Art in Insadong, And A Visit To A Zen Temple, Seoul
My intention for sightseeing in Seoul was to explore the places that we wanted to see near the area where our apartment was located, north of the Han river.
I planned to explore the areas south of the Han river after we moved from our apartment to our new hotel, located in the Gangnam area.
We thought it would be a good idea to stay in two places while in Seoul, so we can have two different points of view of the city, one as locals living in an apartment, and one as tourists, staying in a chic stylish boutique hotel.
Since our current location was close to the trendy Insadong area, we decided to spend the day enjoying the art galleries that the area has to offer.
In Insadong, we went in and out of a few galleries, and admired the art displayed in them.
Since my breakfast was only a bowl of some fresh strawberries, after strolling around visiting some art galleries, I felt hungry and fatigued.
We decided to have a long rest for lunch at a Buddhist restaurant that we discovered in an alley in Insadong, called ‘Sanchon’.
They do not serve Temple Food, meaning that they do use onions, garlic and chive, but it is a vegan restaurant with an emphasis on wholesome ingredients and a harmonious cuisine.
They displayed at the entrance to the restaurant, a review by the New York Times, which called them a “culinary delight” and “one of the best restaurants in ALL of Asia.”
This is a BIG claim… And I that knew we had to give it a try.
We left our shoes in a small wooden chest by the entrance, and we were led through
the beautiful entrance which was decorated with contemporary art and traditional crafts, old wooden puppets dressed in regal clothing and bronze sculptures of the Buddha.
The owner is an old monk, and he offers a fixed menu dining experience.
Lunch is about $36 per person and dinner is around $55.
For this you get a feast with twenty unique dishes and many more side dishes which accompany the main course.
We were given our choice, to sit in the heated floor section, or to sit in the section with tables and chairs.
We chose to sit on the heated floor.
Underfloor heating was invented in Korea thousands of years ago.
They built houses with the floor elevated, and they kept warm coals under it.
Later they invented a central furnace which heated the underfloor.
Underfloor heating is called “Andol” in Korea.
On this restaurant’s heated floor, a very thin floor cushion was to be our seat.
The floor was very hot.
It was almost too hot, despite being a modestly cool day outside.
Other diners, mostly Koreans, who tried to sit there, finally gave up and asked to be seated at the regular floor sitting area, not on the heated floor.
I am sure that Jules was boiling, but he was considerate and he did not ask to move.
Maybe because he saw how much I enjoyed the hot stone floor….
And I did….. it felt very comforting to me, and it was MUCH hotter than our heated floors at home in Colorado.
The meal was a feast fit for kings.
We got an interesting array of wild mountain vegetables.
There was also a selection of cultivated vegetables done in all sorts of ways.
Some were pickled, some were fried, some were steamed and were accompanied with interesting sauces.
Some were made into a yummy porridge and some were stewed.
We spent a long time refreshing our spirits with Mulberry tea, and some homemade brew which they said is drunk by many Korean monks, and was made from pine trees.
Buddhist monks generally do not drink alcohol, but Zen monks in Japan do drink a lot of rice wine Sake.
We were told that Korean monks drink this wine, but they do not admit that it is alcohol, they call it “fermented tea” and serve it hot.
I can attest that it was absolutely delicious, but very potent.
After our long feast and after seeing more art around Insadong, we visited the Jogyesa Temple which is the center of Zen Buddhism in Korea.
Jogyesa Zen Temple does not look like other Zen Temples that I have seen.
It is elaborately decorated with multi-colored lanterns.
It has golden sculptures of the Buddha, wall paintings and the old carved wooden beams and eaves of the buildings were painted with ornate motifs with details and with much color.
Most Zen temples I have seen before had natural colors and did not look so ornate.
The monks, however, wear only light grey robes, with grey shoes, grey socks and grey bags, but some advanced monks wore an occasional saffron colored sash.
The first thing you notice as you enter the temple grounds are the old gnarly trees. These Black Locust trees and Baeksong trees are about 500 years old.
One tree is about 26-meters high and it is designated as a Korean Natural Monument.
I have noticed around the city, that when an old tree is at risk of breaking, either from age, or from woodworm damage or another reason, they fill the bark with expandable foam to protect it from farther damage and install beams to support the tree’s heavy limbs, to prevent it from breaking.
We sat on cushions in the main meditation hall among dozens of other devotees.
It is Buddha’s birthday soon, and the temple was abuzz with people making lanterns and decorating the temple.
We still were able to meditate in peace for awhile.
Since we had such a lavish feast for lunch, we were not very hungry when dinner time came around.
We decided to go to Dongdaemun night food market, where we could pick just a few small tastings and not have to eat a full meal.
We ended up in Meyong Dong, because I did not verify that the pin that I got on the mapping system on my rented Samsung phone was correct.
Samsung tablets and smartphones are made in Korea, and it is no surprise that the brand is very big and very popular in Korea.
It is also more advanced in Korea than you can get outside of Korea, with more applications and features.
But Google map, which I use to navigate our daily routes, is not very good in English in Korea, and you cannot always search for a business or a place by name and locate it instantaneously on the map, as you can in the USA.
Meyong Dong turned out to be a large outdoor shopping mall, with a lot of young people and a busy night market, but with very little food.
We bought from the food stalls some roasted chestnuts, roasted corn on a cob and a pancake made from mungbeans with vegetables.
After a long stroll we still attempted to take the subway to Dongdaemun night market, just to see all the food stalls and see what unique Korean food they were making, but as we got out of the subway, I developed a headache which actually started right after lunch when I drank the potent pine tree wine.
In the recent years, I found that I am less able to drink alcohol, even in tiny quantities.
Many times, even one glass of wine can make me sleepy or give me a headache.
So instead of visiting the night food market, we took a taxi straight to our apartment, where I took a hot shower and wrapped myself with a robe.
Jules covered both of us with a warm blanket and half sleeping, we watched the man-hunt of the Boston marathon bombers on CNN.
That night, some people were departing this earthly journey through the world of dreams…. Their time here on the plane of illusions had just ended.
Some people were starting their long journey of recovery, after horrendous injuries where they lost limbs.
And hopefully….. On some level some people were finally learning that life is not a video game, where they can blow up worlds and shoot a bunch of people, and then put the game console away and go to the fridge to have dinner or ice cream….
Life is precious!
ALL LIFE IS PRECIOUS…