Being vegetarian in Malaysia can be tricky. Sure, Malaysia ranked third for most vegetarian-friendly countries in the world, but not all restaurants or friends are accommodating. Some mistakenly believe that vegetarians can only order salads, and that the food is bland and boring.
Then maybe they should get to know Shojin Ryori, a cuisine traditionally practised by Buddhist monks in Japan. Today, it has become a popular cultural experience that blurs the line between traditional and gourmet cuisine.
Here are 5 facts about Shojin Ryori that all vegetarians (and non-vegetarians) should know.
1. Everything follows the rule of five
The number five is important in Buddhism, and this principle is meticulously and beautifully orchestrated into Shojin Ryori. Here’s what you can expect in the dishes:
- Five Methods of Preparation: raw, simmered, grilled, fried, steamed
- Five Colours: green, red, yellow, white, black
- Five Tastes: sour, bitter, sweet, spicy, salty
The ingredients are also said to contain different energies from the five elements, while the food brings out the best of the five senses.
2. It is packed with nutrients
The ingredients in Shojin Ryori are fresh, organic, and seasonal. They are mainly natural produce from the land and sea, such as roots vegetables, seaweeds, leaves, flowers, beans, fruits, seeds, nuts, grains, fungi and other plant-based food.
3. The challenge is to bring out the best and most honest flavours
Using no meat, eggs or dairy products, the cuisine is suitable for vegans as well as vegetarians. Moderate seasoning is used to ensure the natural flavours are highlighted. Even pungent herbs like garlic, onion, green onion, and chive are not used, as they can mask the flavours and supposedly affect the peacefulness of mind.
In Shojin Ryori, the dishes are honest and unpretentious. Everything is prepared by hand with love and care so that you are presented with food in its most nutritious and beautiful form.
4. Less waste without cutting corners
If you’re into the zero waste movement that’s making waves in Malaysia, hear this! Shojin Ryori takes care to minimise waste by using the peels and by-products to make some yummy dishes. For example, the soybean residue can be made into another dish, while peels can be used to cook broth.
5. Shojin Ryori is not just food – it’s poetry
Shojin Ryori is not only about what you eat, but how you eat. Back then, this was an important part of a monk’straining, as it develops an appreciation for every ingredient, the farmers, the person preparing the food, and nature.