Since returning to Chicago, I have noticed the rise of fast food salad places where you build a salad by choosing a leafy base, a protein, some veggies, and a dressing. You end up paying $15 for an eco-friendly packaged meal that will probably curb your hunger for an hour. It proves to be a healthier option to the greasy fast food of hamburger chains because you get to eat your veggies. But, salads are not the only way to eat our greens.
One of Kyoto’s famous specialties is kyōyasai (京野菜) which translates to Kyoto vegetables. Kyōyasai promotes sustainable produce, for farmers pick heirloom vegetables according to what is available in the region and during the season. It also aims to satisfy our five tastes: saltiness, bitterness, sweetness, sourness, and umami. A Japanese coworker of mine explains that a well-balanced meal satiates all our tastes, so we will not crave for something more. This “rule of five” is at the heart of traditional Buddhist monk cuisine or shojin-ryori (精進料理) that showcases kyōyasai.
Within the Sagano Bamboo Forest, you will find the Tenryu-ji Temple which is one of the most important temples in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto. This world heritage site is home to Shigetsu, a restaurant that offers authentic shojin-ryori. For those on vegetarian diets or those who seek to lessen their meat intake, Buddhist monk diets strictly prepare their meals without any animal products. They do use soy products like shoyu or soy sauce as a marinade and rely heavily on different forms of tofu as their protein.
Not only does shojin-ryori balance the five tastes, but it strives to incorporate our five senses as well. In the picture on above, you will see a warm kabocha soup that compliments the chilled tofu soup below. Incorporating hot and cold dishes entices our sense of touch. If you notice, the tofu soup has a variety of colors due to the different garnishes. Adding pops of color throughout the meal play to our sense of sight. Shojin-ryori is truly a feast for the eyes and for the stomach.
Although this gourmet cuisine can be a bit pricey, shojin-ryori is well worth the try in Japan. It introduces you to a plant-based diet but inspires you to find ways to make your eating habits more balanced. The “rule of five” reminds us not only to feed our five tastes but our five senses.
About the blogger: Hello everyone! My name is Ruby, and I am a native Chicagoan who has just returned from a year in Japan. I fell in love with the Japanese food culture when I began exploring the Kansai region during my time as an assistant language teacher for the JET Program. I’m proud to be a blogger for Kokoro Care Packages where I can share some tidbits about Japanese culture, food, and travel. I hope your care packages and reading the blog posts will inspire you to visit Japan one day.