Eat Like a Buddhist Monk in a Japanese Monastery | The Wanderlist 2019

Why eating Buddhist vegan food is on our list of the top travel experiences for 2019

by Kieran Morris
Jan 14 2019, 10:30am

What? Shojin Ryori is the vegan Buddhist cuisine traditionally associated with monks, and is based around a perfect balance of locality, compassion, and the senses.

Where? Souji-in Temple, Mount Koya, Japan.

Why? Everybody wants to start a new year with a new diet and new mindset - wanting to atone for a season’s worth of gluttony is a normal part of being human. But instead of grimly shovelling down heaps of steamed veg for two weeks (three if you’re lucky) before relapsing on everything you sought to avoid, why not head out far, far into the mountains of Japan, and learn how to really live well? Because we can guarantee, after a week in the Souji-in Temple in Japan’s beautiful and mystical Mount Koya, that you will have a radical new conception of what it means to eat a balanced meal.

The monks of Souji-in practice the traditional dining style of shojin ryori, which has been closely associated with Zen Buddhism for close to 800 years. Wholly vegetarian, and traditionally vegan - although modern monks take no issue with dairy products - shojin ryori places an extraordinary emphasis upon accentuating, and not disturbing, the flavour of each individual vegetable component.

Replacing meat and fish comes a host of different proteins - from sesame tofu, to wheat gluten, to konjac (a particularly slimy, jelly-like form of yam). Seasonings are used, but only sparingly, and only naturally-produced seasonings: kelp dashi, sesame oil, and a host of fermented products (sake, vinegar, miso, soy sauce, etc.) pick up the slack in the absence of salt and spices.

Best Travel Destinations 2019 Japan Vegan 2
Photo: Courtesy of Souji-in Temple

More than this, shojin ryori dishes are produced in accordance with the Buddhist ideals of compassion, and around the symbolic figure of five. Monks will prepare you five dishes, appealing to each of the five senses, hitting each of the five flavours, prepared with five different methods, and in five different colours. This approach is intended to maintain complete physical and spiritual harmony - a cornerstone of Zen philosophy - and leave you satisfied, but not stuffed. Just the ticket, one would expect, after a winter of binging on roasted meats, clotted cream, and Baileys.

When? If you’re looking for warmer weather, July to September should be the best time, but Mount Koya - one of Japan’s best travel destinations - has its charms at any time of year.

How? Bespoke travel specialists Audley Travel can organise your stay at Souji-in.

This has been selected for The Wanderlist - a list of the year’s 50 best travel destinations and experiences, curated by Amuse. If you want an unforgettable trip, this is where to go in 2019.