Many Buddhist temples in Japan offer overnight lodging and meals for visitors. In most cases, these meals follow the standards of shōjin ryōri (literally “devotional cuisine”), a vegetarian style of cooking that involves no meat — and in some cases, no “vegetables that excite the senses” like spicy peppers and garlic.
Some people think that meals without meat or heavy spice sound “boring” – but shōjin ryōri is one of my favorite styles of eating in Japan, and every temple meal I’ve eaten ranks among the most delicious food I’ve sampled in Japan.
Here’s what travelers can expect from a typical shōjin ryōri breakfast in Japan:
Clockwise, from upper left:
– hard-boiled egg (tamago)
– tsukemono (pickled cucumber and plum)
– The small plastic package is nori — seaweed – which most people crumble and add to either the soup or the rice.
– The covered bowl contains miso soup (see the other photo below – taken after I remembered to take the lid off…)
– To the left of the soup, a cold salad of shredded vegetables tossed with sesame and sweet rice vinegar.
– Sweet beans.
Rice and tea complete the meal.
To many Westerners (and Americans in particular) this might seem like an unusual way to start the day. However, it’s actually a delicious meal – as well as filling and nutritious — and unlike many Western breakfasts, it won’t leave you feeling hungry before lunch.
Although it’s easy to find “American breakfast” or “Western breakfast” in Japan (and coffee shops abound) if you ever have the chance to sleep at a Buddhist temple and experience shojin ryori, I hope you will. The food is delicious, and you might just find (as I did) that you even prefer a temple breakfast to its American counterpart (at least when you’re in Japan).
Have you eaten shojin ryori? Would you like to try a temple breakfast?