Balwoo Gongyang is a vegan restaurant serving temple food in Seoul. Oh, and they have a Michelin Star. It was probably one of the most unique dining experiences I have had.
Temple food is served in Buddhist temples in Korea. A lot of thought is put into where the ingredients come from. There are also strict rules as to what can and cannot be used. For example, 5 aromatic ingredients including green onions and garlic are banned. According to the chef “They have a pungent aroma and a poignant flavor believed to disrupt one’s peace of mind which is crucial to the practice of asceticism.”
They have various menus and we went for the least extensive one because we were still jet lagged!
In keeping with their philosophy, the restaurant does not serve alcohol. I ordered a red ginseng drink to start:
The first course:
..and the next three
The dishes had very nice subtle flavors and there were a lot of different textures used. Everything was fresh. Some people may say that temple food is bland. I do not believe this to be the case. I think that the flavors are there, and are more subtle/delicate. The next round of dishes made me rethink what is possible in a vegan meal. I thought that a lot of “meat textures” would be missed, but they were well represented here.
For example, the mandu (dumpling) had the texture of a meat filling as did the deep fried mushrooms (bottom left). They were “meaty”, crunchy, and the sweet chili sauce was very good.
I believe that people who are into vegan/vegetarian cuisine should look into temple food as opposed to what appears to be the highly processed meat substitute products currently being put out.
The last savory course featured typical Korean banchan, a miso paste soup and steamed sticky rice.
Finally, for dessert:
As with many Korean places, we were served in a private room, and there was a push button bell for calling the staff. It is a very efficient system. Service was good and prompt. The food was not mind blowing and bold, but its not supposed to be. After the meal, I felt satisfied and not overly full. I was impressed by the wide range of textures, flavors and preparations. If you are not Vegan, I would highly recommend you try this place. If you are, then you definitely should try this place. Its a great experience in both culture and what a creative chef is capable of. 8/10