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“During his 18 years as a Buddhist monk, Kim Yon Shik grew into an ardent fan of temple cooking, the distinctive cuisine based upon fresh vegetables gathered in the country’s woods and mountains. And when, at the age of 32, he left the monastery in which he had lived since he was 14, he decided that this cuisine deserved a wider audience.

The result is Sanchon, an attractive restaurant offering temple fare for lunch and dinner with nightly samples of Korean dance and music.”

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“Temple cuisine grew out of Korean religious history, Mr. Kim said. During the Yi Dynasty (from 1392 to 1910), Confucianism edged out Buddhism as the predominant religion in Korea, and Buddhist monks were ousted and forced to live in remote mountains. Without much money, Mr. Kim said, monks had to forage for their meals, and they discovered many wild, edible plants.

Temple cuisine’s emphasis on fresh vegetables and herbs reflects a tradition in Korean cooking of closeness to nature. Many of the wild vegetables and herbs served at Sanchon are eaten for their medicinal qualities, or because they are supposed to warm or cool the body. Although Korean food is famous for its liberal use of garlic and red-hot chilies, supposedly introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century, much of the food served at Sanchon is comparatively mild, a reflection of an earlier tradition of indigenous Korean cooking. Many of the mountain vegetables served at Sanchon are parboiled and lightly seasoned with sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce and toasted and ground sesame seeds.” (NY Times)

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At about 8 the room suddenly darkens and a spotlight shines on a small wooden floor that doubles as a stage. The performance we enjoyed featured 3 dancers in varying costumes. The music was oddly reminiscent of EDM trance music: repetitive, spacey and slowly hitting nerves in your head and heart.

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One feels like an ancient king, sitting on the heated floor, a system known as ondol, a low table filled with delicacies and drinks (Pine Tea – highly recommended alcoholic drink) watching the dancers perform. The night ended with a call to the audience to play Korean percussion instruments and dance. We had no hesitation to conform.

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It’s not that easy to discover Seoul’s past, bland skyscrapers tend to overshadow the palaces and gates of its past, standing proud after being invaded countless times. Sanchon provides a taste of what Korea used to be.

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