Trays were brought out promptly and each was laid on the wooden table in a buisness-like fashion. The Snow (cheapest) menu had rice, soup, five side dishes, pickles, dessert and tea, all laid out neatly in red lacquer bowls. I started with the soy miso soup, which contained tiny pinwheels of hydrated yuba that unfurled in the warm broth like miniature white roses. It looked pale and placid, but the umami flavour explodes in the mouth to whet the appetite. In lieu of meat, there was rehydrated wheat gluten (fu) that sat in an assuming clear broth. On top of it perched a roll of yuba, shiitake and a snap pea. As I chewed on the spongy wheat cake, the delicious sweet-salty broth burst out, interwoven with the sweet aroma of soy. It was one of the best dishes on the tray. The Zen temple staple sesame tofu (gomadofu) was satin smooth, treacherously wobbly, and as unctuous as a triple creme custard. The spot of wasabi and drizzle of soy sauce was just enough to compliment the nutty flavour of sesame. I also thoroughly enjoyed the kansai-style sakura mochi, which came with an unexpected savoury ankake sauce (I though mochi could only be sweet!) Additionally there were pickles, a konnyaku dish, broccoli with mustard sauce, but these three dishes were less spectacular.
As I went through the courses, I tried to observe the five principles of shojin ryori in practice – five colours (go shiki), five methods of cooking (go ho), five tastes (go mi), five senses (go kan) and five reflections (go kan mon). Five colours of food (red, yellow, green, white, black/purple) promote a natural balance of macro and micronutrients with a wide variety of foods. Five methods of cooking (raw, steamed, grilled, boiled, fried) help to limit excess seasonings, sodium and sugar, as well as give a variety of textures to savour. Five tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy) give a harmonious balance of flavours and ensures that our palates are pleasantly stimulated. Five senses reminds us not only to be mindful of taste, but also sight, sound, smell and touch/texture of food as we cook and enjoy food. To cross-reference from Ayurveda, diseases can arise when we overuse or misuse one or more of our senses. Five reflections are recited before partaking of the meal and encourage us to be mindful of our nourishment.
- I reflect on the work that bring this food before me; let me see whence this food comes.
(Respect the efforts of all those who contributed their toil to cultivating and preparing our food.)
- I reflect on my imperfections, on whether I am deserving of this offering of food.
(To do good deeds worthy of receiving such nourishment.)
- Let me hold my mind free from greed.
(To come to the table without passion.)
- I take this food as an effective medicine to keep my body in good health.
(To eat for temporal well-being.)
- I accept this food so that I will fulfill my task of enlightenment.
(To eat to attain and accomplish your spiritual purpose.)
Despite all that the temple had served us, we did not feel uncomfortably full. This made sense, since balance and harmony are essential to all shojin ryori meals. We walked out of the temple with nourished bellies and a peaceful mind, ready to continue our sightseeing plans, just like how good food should make you feel – a renewed sense of calm energy.0