The guilty pleasure of instant noodlesI guess my vision was out of focus, as I expected a group of inspired Buddhists clustered around the threshold of a temple to be savoring a piece of mugwort when I decided to visit Sudosa, a renowned temple in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi province.
Venerable Jeongmun, an expert on temple food, provides food tours to visitors at Sudosa, focusing on vegetarian meals that use only natural ingredients.
It was interesting to spend a few hours with Venerable Jeongmun, a quiet man who speaks in implicit metaphors. “The essence of temple food is for monks to safely endure their ascetic practice. If you get deep into meditation, all kinds of thoughts could disturb your mind,” he said. Pausing, he added, “So there are some monks who would use their sexual energy on the divine level to ensure the evolution of the universe.” The connections become somewhat obvious as you see him blush.
The class last week was for young housewives. The recipes focused on children’s snacks: fried tofu topped with black sesame seeds and stir-fried mushrooms and bamboo shoots on rice. Surely it was a nutritious meal, made with fresh ingredients like shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and vegetables.
What made the session particularly memorable for me, though, was that the housewives didn’t hesitate to hide their secular culinary tastes. As soon as the class was over, one student carefully suggested the group make instant noodles as a snack. By the time this was happening, the monk, who had spent hours talking about the dangers of feeding instant food to children, was at lunch.
Within a minute, a woman brought a huge pot of water to boil the ramyeon, shyly handing plastic bowls to our photographer and me.
There were fresh plates of stir-fried mushrooms on rice in the center of the table, still emitting steam. Everyone was encouraging one another to try the dish. But only a few students were reluctantly stirring their spoons in the food. The rest were busy slurping down the greasy, chemical broth of the instant noodles with a mixture of a few dried vegetables.
It was a vivid scene showing how instant food has invaded our humanity, deadening our tastebuds. While we dream of meditating with a piece of a plant root on our plates, we get pleasure from a hearty bowl of instant noodles. But in the end, for people who don’t have the luxury to drive three hours from Seoul to cleanse their minds, that will do.
How to cook
Ingredients (serves two): two packages of tofu, 1/2 cup starch, 3 teaspoons chili paste, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, olive oil, water and pepper.
1. Cut the tofu into cubes. Spread them on a bed of starch. Let stand for 10 minutes.
2. Heat olive oil in a pan to 180 degrees centigrade; fry tofu until golden.
3. In a separate pot, heat the chili paste, sugar, soy sauce, crushed garlic, pepper, sesame oil and water; add the fried tofu quickly.
4. Serve with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.
By Park Soo-mee