Mention Korean temple food and visions of bland porridge might come to mind — most folks have no idea what this obscure branch of cooking is like until a particular episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix aired. The show, which highlights a notable chef in each episode, catapulted Korean nun Jeong Kwan into accidental ‘celebrity chef’ status by showcasing her beautifully Zen approach to cooking.
The ep also featured Jeong Kwan’s pal, celebrated New York-based French chef Eric Ripert (a devout Buddhist who studied temple cooking with Jeong Kwan in Korea and invited her to cook for a VIP event at his three Michelin-starred restaurant Le Bernardin in New York).
Chef’s Table left us hankering after Korean temple food, and funnily enough, you can have it here in Singapore. Even funnier — it’s served in a nondescript Korean cafe called, er, Oh My Cafe, in Westgate Mall.
Our fully vegetarian Korean Temple Food Dinner Set ($13.80) comes with lotus tea, and was fancily served on a wooden tray heaving with a bowl of chargrilled eggplant-topped multigrain rice surrounded by eight tiny individual dishes, each a dainty morsel. Ah, just like what we saw on Netflix. The Lunch Set ($8.80, available till 2.30pm) offers the same portion and plating, just sans eggplant and lotus tea.
Our favourites among the petite dishes are the delicious deep-fried mushrooms draped in gochujang (Korean red chilli paste), burdock japchae (stir-fried glass noodles and veggies) and a delicate pickled cherry tomato.
The food was prepared the Buddhist vegetarian way, which means no garlic, onions or leeks were used (those are considered taboo in the religion as they are believed to stimulate one's libido). Surprisingly, it was no less flavourful. We didn’t even miss meat, like we usually do when we eat vegetarian food.
The dishes here are cooked by a Korean chef who travelled to a Seoul temple to learn how to cook temple food. Impressive. Oh My Cafe’s Korean owner offered this unusual cuisine as he felt that “everyone only knows Korean barbecued meat” and he wanted to serve something that is light and healthy.
Okay, so you won’t feel stuffed after this meal, like you would after a hearty serving of beef bulgogi — but you would’ve eaten just enough to feel sated. And don’t most of us need an austere (but tasty) meal or two after all that Chinese New Year bingeing?
Oh My Cafe, #B1-01 Westgate Mall, 3 Gateway Dr S608532. Tel: 8650-9292. Open daily 11am-9.30pm. Last orders at 9pm. http://www.facebook.com/ohmysingapore.