Buddhist cuisine

Buddhist cuisine is an East Asian cuisine that is followed by monks and many believers from areas historically influenced by Chinese Buddhism. It is vegetarian or vegan, and it is based on the Dharmic concept of ahimsa (non-violence). Vegetarianism is common in other Dharmic faiths such as Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, as well as East Asian religions like Taoism. While monks and a minority of believers are vegetarian year-round, many believers follow the Buddhist vegetarian diet for celebrations.

Vegetarian cuisine is known as sùshí (素食) ("vegetarian food"), chúnsù (纯素) ("pure vegetarian"), zhāicài (斋菜) ("lent / fasting food") in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan; đồ chay in Vietnam; shōjin ryōri (精進料理, devotion cuisine) in Japan; sachal eumsik (사찰음식, "temple food") in Korea; jay (เจ) in Thailand and by other names in many countries. The dishes that comprise Buddhist cuisine in any given place will be influenced by the general local cuisine.

The origin of "Buddhist food" as a distinct sub-style of cuisine is tied to monasteries, where one member of the community would have the duty of being the head cook and supplying meals that paid respect to the strictures of Buddhist precepts. Temples that were open to visitors from the general public might also serve meals to them and a few temples effectively run functioning restaurants on the premises. In Japan, this practice is generally known as shōjin ryōri (精進料理, devotion cuisine), and served at many temples, especially in Kyoto. A more recent version, more Chinese in style, is prepared by the Ōbaku school of zen, and known as fucha ryōri (普茶料理); this is served at the head temple of Manpuku-ji, as well as various subtemples. In modern times, commercial restaurants have also latched on to the style, catering both to practicing and non-practicing lay people.

Buddhist vegetarian cuisine
A vegetarian restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan serving Buddhist cuisine in buffet style
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese齋菜
Simplified Chinese斋菜
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetđồ chay
Korean name
Japanese name

Philosophies governing food


Most of the dishes considered to be uniquely Buddhist are vegetarian, but not all Buddhist traditions require vegetarianism of lay followers or clergy. Vegetarian eating is primarily associated with the East Asian tradition in China, Vietnam, Japan, and Korea where it is commonly practiced by clergy and may be observed by laity on holidays or as a devotional practice.[1]

Theravada Monks and nuns traditionally feed themselves by gathering alms, and generally must eat whatever foods are given to them, including meat.[2] The exception to this alms rule is when monks and nuns have seen, heard or known that animal(s) have been specifically killed to feed the alms-seeker, in which case consumption of such meat would be karmically negative, as well as meat from certain animals, such as dogs and snakes, that were regarded as impure in ancient India.[2][3] The same restriction is also followed by some lay Buddhists and is known as the consumption of "triply clean meat" (三净肉). The Pali Sutras also describe the Buddha as refusing a suggestion by his student Devadatta to mandate vegetarianism in the monastic precepts.

In the Mahayana tradition, by contrast, several sutras of the Mahayana canon contain explicit prohibitions against consuming meat, including sections of the Lankavatara Sutra and Surangama Sutra. Japanese Buddhist sects generally believe that Buddha ate meat.[4] All Japanese Kamakura sects of Buddhism (Zen, Nichiren, Jodo) have relaxed Mahayana vinaya, and as a consequence, vegetarianism is optional.[1] The monastic community in Chinese Buddhism, Vietnamese Buddhism and most of Korean Buddhism strictly adhere to vegetarianism.[1]

Tibetan Buddhism has long accepted that the practical difficulties in obtaining vegetables and grains within most of Tibet make it impossible to insist upon vegetarianism; however, many leading Tibetan Buddhist teachers agree upon the great worth of practicing vegetarianism whenever and wherever possible.

Both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhists consider that one may practice vegetarianism as part of cultivating Bodhisattvas's paramita.[2][1]

Other restrictions

In addition to the ban on garlic practically all Mahayana monastics in China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan specifically avoid eating strong-smelling plants, traditionally asafoetida, shallot, mountain leek and Allium chinense, which together with garlic are referred to as wǔ hūn (五荤, or 'Five Acrid and Strong-smelling Vegetables') or wǔ xīn (五辛 or 'Five Spices') as they tend to excite senses. This is based on teachings found in the Brahamajala Sutra, the Surangama Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra (chapter eight). In modern times this rule is often interpreted to include other vegetables of the onion genus, as well as coriander. The origins of this additional restriction is from the Indic region and can still be found among some believers of Hinduism and Jainism. Some Taoists also have this additional restriction but the list of restricted plants differs from the Buddhist list.[5]

Shojin ryori ryuanji
An example of shōjin-ryōri taken in Kyoto, Japan at the zen temple of Ryōan-ji.

The food that a strict Buddhist takes, if not a vegetarian, is also specific. For many Chinese Buddhists beef and the consumption of large animals and exotic species is avoided. Then there would be the aforementioned "triply clean meat" rule. One restriction on food that is not known to many is the abstinence from eating animal innards and organs. This is known as xiàshui (下水), not to be confused with the term for sewage.

Alcohol and other drugs are also avoided by many Buddhists because of their effects on the mind and "mindfulness". It is part of the Five Precepts which dictate that one is not to consume "addictive materials". The definition of "addictive" depends on each individual but most Buddhists consider alcohol, tobacco and drugs other than medicine to be addictive. Although caffeine is now also known to be addictive, caffeinated drinks and especially tea are not included under this restriction; tea in particular is considered to be healthful and beneficial and its mild stimulant effect desirable. There are many legends about tea. Among meditators it is considered to keep the person alert and awake without overexcitement.

Simple and natural

In theory and practice, many regional styles of cooking may be adopted to be "Buddhist" as long as the cook, with the above restrictions in mind, prepares the food, generally in simple preparations, with expert attention to its quality, wholesomeness and flavor. Often working on a tight budget, the monastery cook would have to make the most of whatever ingredients were available.

In Tenzo kyokun ("Instructions for the Zen Cook"), Soto Zen founder Eihei Dogen wrote the following about the Zen attitude toward food:

In preparing food, it is essential to be sincere and to respect each ingredient regardless of how coarse or fine it is. (...) A rich buttery soup is not better as such than a broth of wild herbs. In handling and preparing wild herbs, do so as you would the ingredients for a rich feast, wholeheartedly, sincerely, clearly. When you serve the monastic assembly, they and you should taste only the flavour of the Ocean of Reality, the Ocean of unobscured Awake Awareness, not whether or not the soup is creamy or made only of wild herbs. In nourishing the seeds of living in the Way, rich food and wild grass are not separate."[6]"


Saigon Vegetarian food
Vegetarian dishes at a Buddhist restaurant in Ho Chi Minh city

Following its dominant status in most parts of East Asia where Buddhism is most practiced, rice features heavily in as a staple in the Buddhist meal, especially in the form of rice porridge or congee as the usual morning meal. Noodles and other grains may often be served as well. Vegetables of all sorts are generally either stir-fried or cooked in vegetarian broth with seasonings and may be eaten with various sauces. Traditionally eggs and dairy are not permitted. Seasonings will be informed by whatever is common in the local region; for example, soy sauce and vegan dashi figure strongly in Japanese monastery food while curry and Tương (as a vegetarian replacement for fish sauce) may be prominent in Southeast Asia. Sweets and desserts are not often consumed, but are permitted in moderation and may be served at special occasions such as in the context of a tea ceremony in the Zen tradition.

Buddhist vegetarian chefs have become extremely creative in imitating meat using prepared wheat gluten, also known as seitan, kao fu (烤麸) or wheat meat, soy (such as tofu or tempeh), agar, konnyaku and other plant products. Some of their recipes are the oldest and most-refined meat analogues in the world. Soy and wheat gluten are very versatile materials, because they can be manufactured into various shapes and textures, and they absorb flavorings (including, but not limited to, meat-like flavorings), while having very little flavor of their own. With the proper seasonings, they can mimic various kinds of meat quite closely.

Some of these Buddhist vegetarian chefs are in the many monasteries and temples which serve allium-free and mock-meat (also known as 'meat analogues') dishes to the monks and visitors (including non-Buddhists who often stay for a few hours or days, to Buddhists who are not monks, but staying overnight for anywhere up to weeks or months). Many Buddhist restaurants also serve vegetarian, vegan, non-alcoholic or allium-free dishes.

Some Buddhists eat vegetarian on the 1st and 15th of the lunar calendar (lenten days), on Chinese New Year eve, and on saint and ancestral holy days. To cater to this type of customer, as well as full-time vegetarians, the menu of a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant usually shows no difference from a typical Chinese or East Asian restaurant, except that in recipes originally made to contain meat, a soy chicken substitute might be served instead.

Variations by sect or region

According to cookbooks published in English, formal monastery meals in the Zen tradition generally follow a pattern of "three bowls" in descending size. The first and largest bowl is a grain-based dish such as rice, noodles or congee; the second contains the protein dish which is often some form of stew or soup; the third and smallest bowl is a vegetable dish or a salad.[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Buddhism and Vegetarianism". Urban Dharma. Retrieved June 9, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c "Buddhism and Vegetarianism". About.com. Retrieved June 9, 2012.
  3. ^ "What the Buddha Said About Eating Meat". Urban Dharma. Retrieved June 9, 2012.
  4. ^ Powers, John. "Going forth: Buddhist vision of vinaya - book review <Internet>" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 16 July 2007.
  5. ^ It also includes coriander and a type of rabe plant.
  6. ^ "Tenzo kyokun: Instructions for the Tenzo - White Wind Zen Community". Retrieved 2012-10-15.
  7. ^ Edward Farrey; Nancy O'Hara (16 May 2000). 3 Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. X. ISBN 978-0-395-97707-1. Retrieved 14 October 2012.

External links

Buddha's delight

Buddha's delight, often transliterated as Luóhàn zhāi, lo han jai, or lo hon jai, is a vegetarian dish well known in Chinese and Buddhist cuisine. It is sometimes also called Luóhàn cài (simplified Chinese: 罗汉菜; traditional Chinese: 羅漢菜).

The dish is traditionally enjoyed by Buddhist monks who are vegetarians, but it has also grown in popularity throughout the world as a common dish available as a vegetarian option in Chinese restaurants. The dish consists of various vegetables and other vegetarian ingredients (sometimes with the addition of seafood or eggs), which are cooked in soy sauce-based liquid with other seasonings until tender. The specific ingredients used vary greatly both inside and outside Asia.

Cloud ear fungus

Cloud ear fungus (Auricularia polytricha, syn. Hirneola polytricha) is an edible jelly fungus. It grows on trees in mountainous regions, is gray-brown in color, and is often used in Asian cooking, especially Chinese cuisine.

Culture of Buddhism

Buddhist culture is exemplified through Buddhist art, Buddhist architecture, Buddhist music and Buddhist cuisine. As Buddhism expanded from the Indian subcontinent it adopted artistic and cultural elements of host countries in other parts of Asia.

Greens Restaurant

Greens Restaurant is a landmark vegetarian restaurant in the Fort Mason Center in the Marina District, San Francisco, California, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Founded by the San Francisco Zen Center in 1979, Greens has been credited in The New York Times as “the restaurant that brought vegetarian food out from sprout-infested health food stores and established it as a cuisine in America.”The chef is Annie Somerville. The restaurant utilizes fresh produce from the organic Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.

Hong Kong cuisine

Hong Kong cuisine is mainly influenced by Cantonese cuisine, European cuisines (especially British cuisine) and non-Cantonese Chinese cuisines (especially Hakka, Teochew, Hokkien and Shanghainese), as well as Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian cuisines, due to Hong Kong's past as a British colony and a long history of being an international port of commerce. From the roadside stalls to the most upscale restaurants, Hong Kong provides an unlimited variety of food and dining in every class. Complex combinations and international gourmet expertise have given Hong Kong the reputable labels of "Gourmet Paradise" and "World's Fair of Food".

Kenchin jiru

Kenchin jiru (けんちん汁, 巻繊汁 kenchinjiru), also spelled kenchin-jiru, and sometimes referred to simply as kenchin, is a Japanese vegetable soup prepared using root vegetables and tofu. It is a popular dish in Japan and is prepared in various manners using myriad ingredients. It has been stated that the dish originated several centuries ago from Kenchō-ji, a temple, and it has also been suggested that the dish has its roots in shippoku cuisine.

Korean temple cuisine

Korean temple cuisine refers to a type of cuisine that originated in Buddhist temples of Korea. Since Buddhism was introduced into Korea, Buddhist traditions have strongly influenced Korean cuisine as well. During the Silla period (57 BC – 935 AD), chalbap (찰밥, a bowl of cooked glutinous rice) yakgwa (약과, a fried dessert) and yumilgwa (a fried and puffed rice snack) were served for Buddhist altars and have been developed into types of hangwa, Korean traditional confectionery. During the Goryeo Dynasty, sangchu ssam (wraps made with lettuce), yaksik, and yakgwa were developed, so spread to China and other countries. Since the Joseon Dynasty, Buddhist cuisine has been established in Korea according to regions and temples.On the other hand, royal court cuisine is closely related to Korean temple cuisine. In the past, when the royal court maids called sanggung, who were assigned to Suragan (hangul: 수라간; hanja: 水剌間; the name of the royal kitchen), where they prepared the king's meals, became old, they had to leave the royal palace. Therefore, many of them entered Buddhist temples to become nuns. As the result, culinary techniques and recipes of the royal cuisine were integrated into Buddhist cuisine.


Manjū (饅頭, まんじゅう) is a popular traditional Japanese confection. There are many varieties of manjū, but most have an outside made from flour, rice powder, kudzu and buckwheat and a filling of anko (red bean paste), usually made from boiled adzuki beans and sugar. Manjū is sometimes made with other fillings like chestnut jam. In Hawaii, one can find Okinawan manjū that are made with a filling of purple sweet potato, butter, milk, sugar and salt, but the most common filling is bean paste of which there are several varieties including koshian, tsubuan, and tsubushian.

Meat analogue

A meat analogue, also called a meat alternative, meat substitute, mock meat, faux meat, imitation meat, vegetarian meat, or vegan meat, approximates certain aesthetic qualities (such as texture, flavor, appearance) or chemical characteristics of specific types of meat.

Generally, meat analogue means a food made from vegetarian ingredients, and sometimes without animal products such as dairy. Many analogues are soy-based (e.g. tofu, tempeh) or gluten-based, but now may also be pea protein-based. The target market for meat analogues includes vegetarians, vegans, non-vegetarians seeking to reduce their meat consumption, and people following religious dietary laws in Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.

Tofu, a popular meat analogue made from soybeans, was known in China during the period of the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE – 9 CE). A document written by Tao Gu (903–970) describes how tofu was called "small mutton" and valued as an imitation meat. Meat analogues such as tofu and wheat gluten are associated with Buddhist cuisine in China and other parts of East Asia. In today's China, tofu is often prepared with pork, since the Han Chinese do not consider tofu to be a meat substitute. An example is ma po dofu (麻婆豆腐). In Medieval Europe, meat analogues were popular during the Christian observance of Lent, when the consumption of meat from warm-blooded animals is forbidden.

Meat analogue may also refer to a meat-based or less-expensive alternative to a particular meat product, such as surimi.

An alternative modern technology is cultured meat, grown in vitro from the muscle tissue of animals.

Mock duck

Mock duck is a gluten-based vegetarian food. It is made of wheat gluten, oil, sugar, soy sauce, and salt. It is thus high in protein. Its distinctive flavor and artificial "plucked duck" texture distinguish it from other forms of commercially available gluten products. Mock duck can be found in some Chinese grocery stores or retail outlets providing international selections of food. Similar products may be labeled as "Mock Abalone" or "Cha'i Pow Yu" (齋鮑魚; pinyin: zhāibàoyú).

Typically, mock duck gains its flavor from the stewing of the gluten product in soy sauce and MSG.

A variation of mock duck made from tofu skin is also popular.


Nattō (納豆) is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans that have been fermented with Bacillus subtilis var. natto. Some eat it as a breakfast food. It is served with karashi mustard, soy sauce, and sometimes Japanese bunching onion. Nattō is often considered an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and sticky, slimy texture. Within Japan, nattō is most popular in the eastern regions, including Kantō, Tōhoku, and Hokkaido, and a 2009 survey revealed that 70.2% of Japanese like it, and that some who dislike it eat it anyway for its nutritional qualities.

Patriotic soup

Patriotic soup (simplified Chinese: 护国菜; traditional Chinese: 護國菜; pinyin: hùguó cài; literally: 'protect the country dish') is a vegetable soup originated by Teochew people. It is developed during the final year of China's Song dynasty.


Sansai (山菜) is a Japanese word literally meaning "mountain vegetables", originally referring to vegetables that grew naturally, were foraged in the wild, and not grown and harvested from fields. However, in modern times, the distinction is somewhat blurred, as some sansai such as warabi have been successfully cultivated. For example, some of the fern shoots such as bracken (Fiddlehead) and zenmai shipped to market are farm-grown.

They are often sold pre-cooked in water, and typically packaged in plastic packs in liquid. The fern shoots warabi (bracken), fuki stalks in sticks, and mixes which may contain the above-mentioned combined with baby bamboo shoots, mushrooms, etc., are available in retail supermarkets, and even in ethnic foodstores in the US.

Sansai are often used as ingredients in shōjin ryōri, or Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.

Sichuan cuisine

Sichuan cuisine, Szechwan cuisine, or Szechuan cuisine ( or ) is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan Province. It has bold flavours, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavour of Sichuan pepper. There are many local variations within Sichuan Province and the neighbouring Chongqing Municipality, which was part of Sichuan Province until 1997. Four sub-styles of Sichuan cuisine include Chongqing, Chengdu, Zigong and Buddhist vegetarian style.UNESCO declared Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, to be a city of gastronomy in 2011 to recognise the sophistication of its cooking.


Takuan (Japanese: 沢庵; also spelled takuwan), or takuan-zuke (沢庵漬け; 'pickled takuan'), known as danmuji (단무지) in the context of Korean cuisine, is a pickled preparation of daikon radish. As a popular part of traditional Japanese cuisine, Takuan is often served uncooked alongside other types of tsukemono ('pickled things'). It is also enjoyed at the end of meals as it is thought to aid digestion.

Tofu skin

Tofu skin, yuba, bean curd skin, bean curd sheet, or bean curd robes, is a food product made from soybeans. During the boiling of soy milk, in an open shallow pan, a film or skin forms on the liquid surface. The films are collected and dried into yellowish sheets known as tofu skin. Since tofu skin is not produced using a coagulant, it is not technically a proper tofu; however, it does have similar texture and flavor to some tofu products.

Tofu skin's use was first documented in written records in China and Japan in the sixteenth century. It is widely used, fresh, fermented, or dried, in Chinese and Japanese cuisine.


Tương (Vietnamese: [tɨəŋ]) is the name applied to a variety of condiments a kind of fermented bean paste made from soybean and commonly used in Vietnamese cuisine.

Originally, the term tương refers to a salty paste made from fermented soybeans, which is popular in vegetarian meals, particularly those prepared and eaten by Vietnamese Buddhist monks. It is also the most typical dipping sauce for summer rolls (gỏi cuốn). The paste, which is generally dark brown in color, is produced by adding the fungus Aspergillus oryzae to roasted soybeans, which are then allowed to naturally ferment in a jar with water until it develops an umami flavor. Other ingredients, such as glutinous rice or maize powder, salt, or water, may also be used. Tương is similar to the Chinese yellow soybean paste, though the latter is generally saltier and thicker in texture.

Tương may range in consistency from a thick paste to a thin liquid. Some varieties, such as that prepared in Central Vietnam, are watery, with solids at the bottom of the container in which it is stored. A more condensed variety, called tương Bần or tương làng Bần, is produced in the town of Bần Yên Nhân, in Mỹ Hào district of Hưng Yên Province, in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam, and takes its name from the name of the town. Other varieties of tương are similarly named for the towns or districts in which they are made, such as tương Phố Hiến (made in a township of Hưng Yên Province), tương Nam Đàn (made in a district of Nghệ An Province), tương Cự Đà (made in a town in Hà Tây Province) and tương chùa Mía (Đường Lâm village, Hà Tây Province). In Southern Vietnam, it is called tương hột.

Tương is commercially available in glass and plastic jars and bottles throughout Vietnam, as well as in Vietnamese grocery stores overseas.

The word tương can also be used to refer to other condiments, such as tương cà (tomato sauce), tương xí muội (plum sauce) or tương ớt (chilli sauce). In southern Vietnam, nước tương refers to soy sauce while Northern Vietnam calls it xì dầu.

Wheat gluten (food)

Wheat gluten is a food made from gluten, the main protein of wheat. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving the sticky insoluble gluten as an elastic mass which is then cooked before being eaten.The name Seitan is now widely used in vegetarian, vegan, wholefood and macrobiotic circles for wheat gluten dishes.Wheat gluten is an alternative to soybean-based foods such as tofu, which are sometimes used as meat substitutes. Some types of wheat gluten have a chewy or stringy texture that resembles meat more than other substitutes. Wheat gluten is often used instead of meat in Asian, vegetarian, Buddhist, and macrobiotic cuisines. Mock duck is a common use for wheat gluten.

Wheat gluten proteins are deficient in lysine, which is an essential amino acid.Wheat gluten first appeared during the 6th century as an ingredient for Chinese noodles. It has historically been popular in the cuisines of China, Japan and other East and Southeast Asian nations. In Asia, it is commonly found on the menus of restaurants catering primarily to Buddhist customers who do not eat meat.


Yōkan (羊羹) is a thick, jellied Japanese dessert made of red bean paste, agar, and sugar. It is usually sold in a block form, and eaten in slices. There are two main types: neri yōkan and mizu yōkan. "Mizu" means "water", and indicates that it is made with more water than usual. Mizu yōkan is often chilled and eaten in summer.

Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyinzhāi cài
Romanization[tsa tsɛ]
Yue: Cantonese
Southern Min
Hokkien POJche-chhài
Revised Romanizationsachal eumsik
McCune–Reischauersach'al ŭmsik
Revised Hepburnshōjin ryōri
Kunrei-shikisyouzin ryouri
Topics in Buddhism
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