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Culinary Fundamentals

Shojin Ryori
Written by Fujii Sotetsu (Zen Buddhist priest)
Photos by Omori Tadashi

The basic meal for Zen monks is very simple rice, soup and a side dish. Favored guests at the
temple are treated to something more special. Here is a type of full-course shojin ryori meal available
at some Zen temples.
From the left: Second, main course, and final course.
Main course: Starting clockwise from the top left,
(1) cooked squash, carrots and shimeji mushrooms served with a small eggplant that has been fried
and then simmered; (2) spinach and tofu with dressing; (3) vinegared dish with lily bulb, cucumber,
Japanese ginger and Daitokuji wheat gluten;
(4) miso soup with broiled eggplant, nameko mushrooms and oka-hijiki; (5) pickles; (6) rice garnished
with fresh boiled soybeans. Nagura Kazuhiro, chef at the Tokyo Grand Hotel, prepared this feast.
In the 13th century, Zen Zen try to eat all of the food
monks from China prepared during the day, and
popularized a form of throw nothing edible away.
vegetarian cuisine in Japan This recycling is easy if
known as shojin ryori. The one minimizes seasoning,
practice of preparing letting the natural flavor of
delicious meals with the ingredients define the
seasonable vegetables and taste.
wild plants from the The Zen aversion to waste
mountains, served with extends to dishware, too.
seaweed, fresh soybean curd When Japanese people eat
(or dehydrated forms), and deep-fried tempura, they use
seeds (such as walnuts, pine extra dishes for the dipping
nuts and peanuts) is a sauce. Followers of Zen, on
tradition that is still alive at the other hand, feel that
Zen temples today. Stemming sauces are extravagant to
from the Buddhist precept prepare and tend to drip and
that it is wrong to kill make a mess anyway, so we
animals, including fish, shojin forgo using dipping sauces
ryori is completely altogether. In fact, sauces are
vegetarian. Buddhism unnecessary with a little salt
prescribes partaking of a in the batter, or if one
simple diet every day and simmers vegetables in miso-
abstaining from drinking flavored water before deep-
alcohol or eating meat. Such frying them.
a lifestyle, together with People ask me if I can
physical training, clears the maintain a balanced diet
mind of confusion and leads while eating only vegetables;
to understanding. the answer, of course, is yes. I
Even in preparing shojin have been following Buddhist
ryori batter, we do not use training and eating only
unfertilized eggs as a binder; vegetarian meals for more
we use yam instead, which than 50 years, yet have never
works quite well. Shojin ryori even caught a cold in all that
cooks also make sure not to time. Life at a Zen temple is
waste any of the ingredients. strict and demands much
We even saut the greens and physical labor, but I can take
peelings of carrots and daikon it in stride because I have the
radish, then simmer them in a power of seasonal vegetables
little water, or we add them to on my side. Of course, shojin
soup. If there are any ryori is part of the Buddhist
byproducts remaining after temple regimen, yet it is also
this, we mix them with my way of maintaining a
leftover rice to make porridge sound mind and body.
for the evening. Followers of