Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be invited to a wonderful event at the Embassy of Japan called “Zen and the Art of Healthy Eating”. The event was all about “shojin ryori” (Buddhist cuisine), which I’m a big fan of because not only is it veggie, it’s delicious!
Shojin ryori was introduced to the audience by the very sweet Mari Fujii. (Every home needs a Mari Fujii.)
Image source: New Asian Cuisine
During her demonstration, Fujii-san explained that shojin ryori has become quite fashionable recently, perhaps because of the raw food movement. Shojin ryori is nourishing and healthy, and its principles are based on the Buddhist idea that “you don’t eat anything that could run away from you”. (Interestingly, when I first became veggie I decided that I wouldn’t eat anything with legs, which is pretty much the same idea.)
Also, Fujii-san explained that shojin ryori shouldn’t include anything that has too strong a taste, like onion, spring onion or garlic. This makes shojin ryori a little different from other Japanese food, and also from regular veggie food.
The Japanese phrase “ichimotsu zentai” means “using the whole thing”. When applying this phrase to shojin ryori, the idea is that even vegetables have some kind of life, so you should use every part and not be wasteful. Later on in the demonstration, Fujii-san peeled a potato and explained that she would save the peelings for later, when she would deep fry them to make chips.
Another important element in shojin ryori is “gomi, goshoku, goho”, which means “five flavours, five colours, prepared in five ways”.
The five flavours are sweet, spicy, sour, salty, and bitter. (甘,辛,酸,塩,苦)
The five colors are: red, green, yellow, black and white.(赤、青、黄、黒、白)
The five methods of preparation are: raw, boiled, grilled, fried, and steamed. (生、煮る、焼く、揚げる、蒸す)
When Fujii-san prepares shojin ryori, she said she always thinks about “gomi, goshoku, goho”. I’ve heard this kind of theory from other cooks before too – it makes sense to put a bit of variety in your dishes. Of course, seasonality also plays a part in shojin ryori, as it does in many aspects of Japanese culture.
Fujii-san demonstrated how to make three different shojin ryori dishes. They were: goma dofu (sesame tofu), unagi no kabayaki (mock eel) and miso fondue. At the end of the demonstration, a recipe booklet was available for everyone to take home. As the first sample was passed around and the audience began to get their chopsticks out, a collective “mmmm” swept across the room. Everything was delicious, and I promise I’m not just saying that.
Image source: Clearspring
After the demonstration there was a reception and more samples were passed around. I loved knowing that I could try everything without having to ask if it had meat in it and, again, everything was delicious!
So, why does Mari Fujii make shojin ryori? Well, it all started because her husband was a monk (before they got married). She then decided to promote shojin ryori because of its health benefits. She said she likes making shojin ryori because it makes people happy, and that makes her happy. 🙂
If cooking really isn’t your thing, the best places to try real shojin ryori are Kyoto, Koyasan and Zenkoji (Nagano). I don’t know if there are any restaurants that serve shojin ryori in the UK, but I hope there will be one day!
Image source: Atsuko’s Kitchen
The event was at the Embassy of Japan in the UK, and was supported by Atsuko’s Kitchen. I don’t know if there are any places left, but Atsuko’s Kitchen and Mari Fujii are running a shojin ryori cooking class this Sunday. For more information, click here.