The Zen way of cooking

The Zen way of cooking

There is a famous Zen poem about the right way to make tea (“cha no yu”), and it translates loosely as follows:

“To make tea, just boil water, make tea, then you drink it properly.”

The Zen way of cooking is somewhat similar. Japanese Zen Buddhism has a long tradition of what is called “temple cuisine”, a refined and essentially vegan way of cooking.

When I was living in Japan, near Kyoto, there was a Zen temple close by, the beautiful Manpukuji.

Gate of a Buddhist temple in Kyoto Lotus pond of a Buddhist temple in Kyoto

In the shop of the Manpukuji temple I bought this cookbook (in Japanese only) about “fucha ryori” (Zen temple cuisine):

Zen temple cookbook

The book is full of delicious-looking pictures of the recipes, like this one:

Page from the zen temple cookbook

What is very different from a regular cookbook is the way the recipes are described: typically, there is a list of ingredients but no amounts, and the method of cooking is described but usually no cooking times are given. Clearly, these details are not the essence of Zen cooking.

On the other hand, for every recipe the book mentions if it is for spring, summer, autumn or winter. This connection with the seasons is of great importance in Japan. Also, the the recipes give detailed instructions related to the way the prepared food looks. The aesthetic aspect is as important as the taste.

So maybe we can express the Zen way of cooking like this:


“To cook the Zen way, just take the right ingredients, prepare the food, then serve it properly.”

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