Shojin-ryory at the Tenryu-ji, Kyoto
May 11, 2010
We have recently had two excellent meals of elaborate shojin-ryori, or Zen Buddhist vegan cuisine, at Kajitsu in New York. We were eager to try it at a source, a Zen temple in Kyoto, Tenryu-ji, which includes Sigetu, a restaurant open to the public, on its grounds.
Our guide for the day, April 17, 2010, Tamoto-san, started us off in the morning at the Kiyomizu Temple.
We went on to the Silver Pavilion.
Then the Golden Pavilion.
A little after 1:00 we arrived at the Tenryu-ji Temple.
Tamoto-san had reserved a room for us and we were welcomed. Below she and Linda are about to enter the restaurant.
The room for our lunch is behind the open door.
The view from our room.
Short chairs are provided for the Westerners. Those who choose to do so can eat kneeling in silence in a common room as the monks do. One can choose from three price levels.
We were given a brochure on the cuisine in English. It describes the monks’ normal spare diet and says that our meal will be like one prepared for special celebrations. It says that the cooking broths are made from sea kelp, mushrooms and dried gourd.
Red lacquer is used extensively to show off the food. A carafe of chilled sake and a glass of water are on the right.
Top center is broccoli in what seemed like a warm mayonnaise. Top right is tofu made with sesame without soy. Center right are pickles. Lower left is plain rice. Lower right is miso soup.
This is the small dish in the upper left of our tray. It includes soybeans in a little bowl. Inside the leaf is a fu, or wheat gluten, dumpling with white bean paste inside.
This bowl was served about halfway through on the side. It had a very glutenous sauce. The brown vegetables are small mushrooms. Inside the leaf was rice with white bean paste.
Dessert was two orange slices and a strawberry.
I had sake and Linda had beer with her lunch. It was cool in the room, but the fresh air felt good.
He presides over one of the big common dining rooms.
I think that we had an enjoyable lesson in shojin cuisine. The ingredients were all basic, but had been carefully worked on to provide a variety of interesting and appealing flavors. The presentation was carefully arranged. This is supposed to be the foundation of all Kyoto kaiseki cuisine, which, of course, adds a wide range of ingredients and cooking techniques while keeping the emphasis on beautiful presentation. Kajitsu in New York goes in a different direction by staying with vegan ingredients, adding American ones to the Japanese, enhancing the presentation tricks and offering changing multi-course menus.
After lunch we walked in the Tenryu-ji’s extensive old gardens and its bamboo forest. Then we went on to the Ryoan-ji Temple and its famous fifteenth century dry landscape rock garden. The double blossom cherry trees were still in full bloom.