Can Korean vegetarian food make it big in Canada?

August 31 2018

If there are two features of the culinary offering that have diversified in both Canada and across the western world as a whole, they have been the appearance of more food from Asian countries and also increased vegetarianism. Now, the two may be combined in a new popular trend. 

While Korean cuisine includes plenty of meat dishes, there are also many vegetarians in the Asian country, which has a high proportion of Buddhists in its population. As a growing number of Canadians are opting for plant-based diets, it may just be that now is a great time to combine the two.

This is certainly the hope at the Canadian Museum of History from September 12th-14th, when the Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism and the Korean Cultural Center Canada will be staging an event highlighting traditional food and culture.

On September 12th, there will be opportunities for invited guests - including politicians, members of the media and famous chefs - to try traditional Korean temple foods. These vegetarian dishes will include Bang-a, a type of Korean mint, Jaepi (pepper leaves) with seaweed, pickled green plums, pickled cherry tomatoes with fermented pine needle and green plum syrup, cucumber white kimchi and Napa cabbage kimchi. 

These are just the first day's offerings, with more dishes available on the other two days. The 13th will be open to those who have made advance reservations and the last day will be open to all, with a public lecture also being given. 

It won't be any old talk. It will be delivered by Ji-Young Kim, head chef at Balwoo Gongyang, a Michelin one-starred restaurant in Korea. She will speak on the subject of "Tradition and Culture of Korean Temple Food: Understanding Temple food," while also showing how to make a dish called Yeonipbap, featuring steamed rice wrapped in a lotus leaf, plus Korean cabbage kimchi in the temple style and melon kimchi. 

Sensing that now is the time for a country increasingly used to Korean food to explore new vegetarian options, director of the Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism Ven Wonkyeong said: "We see growing environment pollution and health problems caused by meat-eating culture. We will promote the temple food as eco-friendly vegetarian food."
The offering will be quite an eye-opener to the average Canadian ,who may be more used to Chinese and Japanese dishes featuring familiar meats like pork and beef, as well as slightly more exotic kinds of seafood. But, just as sushi has become a regular part of the diets of many - not least because of its health benefits - it may be that Korean temple food can do so as well. 

While it might sound like something that would be dished up and eaten by monks in orange robes, the fact that it has not only become a part of Korea's restaurant scene but won a Michelin star too may suggest that the same could happen in Canada. 

Indeed, with a recent study by Dalhousie University revealing that Canada now has 2.3 million people who identify as vegetarian or vegan, compared with 900,000 15 years ago, Korean temple food might find a surprisingly prominent niche in the Canadian food scene.