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Sanchon – Seoul’s Most Famous Vegan Temple Food Restaurant

November 27, 2011

So, this blog post has been on my to-do list for about 5 months now! This past summer while we were in Seoul, Sunnie’s parents took me to Sanchon (check out their website) for my birthday. We had heard many great things about Sanchon, so we were  excited to check it out. Also, Sanchon is in Insadong, one of my favorite areas of Seoul, so that was another treat. Insadong is near several of the palaces and there are always things to check out in the streets – art galleries, antiques, and food.

We had previously visited Sanchon’s oriental medicine shop that is on the side of the main street in Insadong but had never been to the restaurant itself. The oriental medicine shop is also very cool. They have all sorts of interesting herbs in Korean traditional baskets, and they are beautiful to look at and make you want to go all Dae Jang Geum with your cooking and cure whatever ails those eating your food might have by throwing different herbs in – or maybe that’s just me.

The restaurant itself is actually back off of the street down an alley, so it can be hard to find, so it’s best to look first for the medicine shop and then follow the signs back from there.

Lotus lamps in Sanchon

Sanchon is Buddhist temple food, so it is entirely vegan. The business owner is actually a former monk, and he still works at the restaurant every day, serving and making sure things run smoothly while dressed in his Buddhist clothing. It lends a feeling of authenticity to the cuisine, and it’s fun to see a monk has become a successful businessman.

Sanchon’s best attribute is definitely its ambiance. With lamps in the shape of lotus flowers hanging from the ceiling, Buddhist decor, and wooden tables, floors, walls, and beams, the interior of the restaurant is really beautiful. You remove your shoes upon entering and with the feel is more like you are in a hanok (traditional Korean house) than a restaurant.

Sanchon Buddhist decor

You are seated on the floor on cushions next to the tables  and even the tableware adds to the atmosphere.

Sanchon tableware

You are served a very large number of namul banchan, all presented beautifully.

Eighteen namul dishes to start with!

Sanchon banchan

With so many dishes, the service team would arrive with new dishes and clear off others. This dish below had kimchi, assorted sea vegetables, and thin pancakes.

We had water kimchi…. (Sunnie’s favorite.)

And red bean and sweet (kabocha) squash porridge….

and fernbracken in kkaennip seed stew….

dumplings and pancakes….

tofu kimchi stew….

seasoned, roasted potatoes….

battered, fried vegetables….

and the grand finale – doengjang jigae, with a lot of tofu and fresh veggies.

With all the dishes laid out before you, you really do feel like you are at a feast, and the bowls and serving ware all all beautiful in their simplicity. It really strikes the right chord and is perfect for a celebration or special occasion. The decor was beautiful, and the food was plentiful and varied. It was definitely an experience we did not want to miss.

In comparison to the other temple restaurant we blogged about which we visited in May – Gam Ro Dang, we decided that we enjoyed the Gam Ro Dang food more. It had slightly stronger flavors and appealed to the more modern palate. Sanchon’s food was much more earthy and simple, focusing on macrobiotic principles.

If you’re wanting to introduce friends to Korean temple food in a lovely environment, Sanchon is a great choice. On some evenings, they offer live, accompanying traditional Korean music as well. This is a favorite recommendation for tourists in Korea as its located in the tourist-friendly Insadong, and is an experience as much as a meal. Sanchon is definitely an experience you’ll want to have and such a cool introduction to temple food that we haven’t seen matched elsewhere in Korea.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2011 8:21 pm

    what is the Korean term for this style of cooking? in Japan it is Shojin Ryori (Priest’s Cooking)… I did once know the Korean equivalent…

    • Sunnie permalink*
      November 27, 2011 8:27 pm

      Hello, Oliver!

      It is Sachal-Umshik (사찰음식) in Korean, literally meaning temple food! ;)

      • November 28, 2011 9:25 pm

        Ah yes.. thanks, I remember that now… Umshik = 飲食?

      • Sunnie permalink*
        November 29, 2011 3:48 am

        Yes! ;)

  2. November 27, 2011 8:24 pm

    And I wonder whether there are any recipe books available? (in Korean or English)

    • Sunnie permalink*
      November 27, 2011 8:32 pm

      Yes, there are some Korean temple food cookbooks in Korea, I haven’t seen any English ones though. I know that many Buddhist monks are passionate about macrobiotic, temple cooking and they take their book writing very seriously as well. So there are many temple cooking cookbooks that are good. Are you able to read some Korean? If you can, you’ll find some that you like in any Korean bookstore!

      • November 28, 2011 9:42 pm

        I had a search for 사찰음식 on Google Books… there are some books, but they do not yet have even a Preview…

        I have a degree in Japanese and Korean – but I graduated nearly 20 years ago and have not used Korean much. Although I have forgotten many words, one can never forget how to read Hangul, and I don’t forget the grammar, so I can read it well, without really understanding much :-) lol. But together with Google or a dictionary, it wouldn’t take long to get the vocabulary to return… As I learn more about food I will pick up more food words…

        Did you know that ‘kabocha’ comes from Kampuchea – Cambodia – from where the Portuguese brought pumpkin… what is its name in Korean?

      • Sunnie permalink*
        November 29, 2011 3:55 am

        Very cool that you have a degree in Japanese & Korean, Oliver! Yes, I’m sure it will all come back to you pretty quickly if you start reading again.

        As for Kabocha squash – I did not know that in comes from Cambodia, pretty interesting. In Korean, it is “단호박” – Dan-Hobak – meaning sweet squash!

      • November 28, 2011 9:44 pm

        Also occasionally in my spare time I translate Japanese Shojin/vegan recipes and attempt to make them… http://zorgster.com/

      • November 29, 2011 7:50 am

        단호박 … as Lee Sungmin is known? :-) (no, I did not know that – it popped up in a search…)

        Actually the Portuguese name was ‘Cambodia abóbora’ pronounced in Japanese as ‘Kanboccha Abobora’.. I read that it is also known in Japan as ‘Bobora’…

      • Sunnie permalink*
        November 29, 2011 11:25 am

        Ha! Interesting…!! ;)

  3. November 28, 2011 7:44 pm

    I am going to learn to read Korean!

  4. December 1, 2011 2:58 pm

    I would love for you to visit my blog.
    tastingkorea.blogspot.com

    • Bill permalink*
      December 1, 2011 7:11 pm

      Thanks for visiting, Tasting Korea and thanks for linking to us! You’ve done a great job of identifying different blogs, many of which I hadn’t heard of before and obviously put a lot of time into your posts. Thanks for introducing us to your blog. I look forward to your future posts!

  5. Nora permalink
    August 5, 2013 9:39 pm

    hi, i am wondering whether the cuisine includes any alcohols into the cooking?

    • Bill permalink*
      August 7, 2013 2:10 pm

      Hi, Nora. I am not positive, but I would really doubt it!

  6. Andres permalink
    October 1, 2013 4:43 am

    Just arriving to korea.
    I am at provista Hotel, how can I get to Sanchon trstaurant from here?
    Any help will be very much appreciates.

    Best

    • Bill permalink*
      October 1, 2013 1:56 pm

      Hi, Andres. The easiest way is probably to take a taxi. The ones for foreigners have translation services. You can get the address at their webpage (linked in post) or at the happycow profile for the restaurant: http://www.happycow.net/reviews/sanchon-seoul-5929.

      Otherwise, you can use Seoul’s subway system to get there. They have apps for your mobile phone, or you can find a map online. It depends how comfortable you are navigating the subway system. Good luck and I hope you enjoy it!

  7. January 2, 2014 8:14 pm

    Wow, great entry! I lived in Japan for six months recently and made a point to try Shojin Ryori in Kyoto as well as taking several cooking classes based on Japanese (vegan) temple cuisine. There are several shojin ryori cookbooks available in English (such as “The Enlightened Kitchen”), but I have not been able to find any English translations on 사찰음식. I hope to visit Sanchon if I ever make it to Korea!

    • Bill permalink*
      January 13, 2014 5:45 pm

      That sounds awesome! We have found only one book, which is very difficult to track down as it is out of print. It is called Temple Food and is by Jung Lee. We were able to get a used copy online, and highly recommend it!

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