Life & Leisure

Shojin Ryori: Japan’s vegan Buddhist cuisine

By Edurne Morillo

Nara, Japan, Dec 29 (EFE).- Japan’s ancient vegetarian cuisine known as Shojin Ryori, a traditional food cooked and consumed by Buddhist monks, is enjoying a boom among both locals and tourists.

Shojin Ryori, which translates as “devotion cuisine”, is prepared in Buddhist temples with seasonal vegetables and wild plants and is suitable for vegans as it rarely uses animal products.

Although it has traditionally been enjoyed only by monks, many temples have flung their doors open so that tourists and civilians can taste the delicious dishes and learn about Buddhism.

The Jikoin temple, in the western city of Yamatokoriyama, is an unusual building that was built as a traditional tea room that now combines gastronomy and religion.

“Traditionally the idea was that the monks could live self-sufficiently with what they grew in the vicinity of the temple,” one of the temple’s monks told Efe during a press tour organized by the Japan National Tourism Organization.

The autumn menu is peppered with seasonal vegetables, like satsuma imo (sweet potato), bok choy (a type of Chinese cabbage), tofu and konjac, a root vegetable that is often prepared as a meat substitute in Japan.

“It’s our way of welcoming people, with an open garden where they can enjoy the seasons and the food,” the monk added.

The meal is accompanied by a Japanese matcha tea ceremony which is served with higashi and omogashi, dry and moist sweets that are prepared with dried fruits and adzuki, a vegan sweet bean paste.

Shojin Ryori arrived in Japan from China in the 13th century and has its origins in the Buddhist belief that it is wrong to kill animals for human consumption.

Despite its apparent simplicity, Shojin Ryori is a sophisticated cuisine that uses “the rule of five” when cooking. All meals must include five colors — green, yellow, red, black and white — and five flavors — sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

This balance of taste and color garners nutritious and seasonal meals packed with flavor.

According to a 2014 survey conducted among 1,188 people, 4.7% of the Japanese population identifies as vegetarian, while 2.7% identifies as vegan, however, it is likely the figure is lower as many Japanese vegetarians eat fish and shellfish.

In the last decade, plant-based restaurants have been on the rise in large cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, but vegetarian options in conventional restaurants and in rural areas are very limited.

In 2020, per capita meat consumption in Japan exceeded 30 kilograms per person, with poultry accounting for nearly half of the volume of consumed meat due to its low-fat content and price, according to German statistics company Statista.

“In recent years we have noticed an increase in the number of vegan or vegetarian people who visit the temple and when they do they give us very good comments about the food,” the monk concludes.EFE

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