Sanchon – Seoul’s Most Famous Vegan Temple Food Restaurant
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.
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.
You are seated on the floor on cushions next to the tables and even the tableware adds to the atmosphere.
You are served a very large number of namul banchan, all presented beautifully.
Eighteen namul dishes to start with!
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.