Meat Substitutes in Korean Buddhist Vegan Cooking

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea of meat substitutes in Korean Buddhist vegan cooking.

First of all, meat consumption in the Korean diet was relatively low until modernization. Traditional Korean cuisine is vegetable and grain centric with meat more commonly used for flavoring. In the not too distant past, BBQ was for special occasions and is still quite expensive in Korea. (Please note that there is a huge difference between what your Korean-American friends eat and how Koreans in Korea eat).

All cuisines have a grammar. A system, syntax, structure, and morphology. The three fundamental components of a Korean Buddhist meal or a Korean meal are rice, soup, and kimchi. This is a nutritional complete meal. The idea of needing more protein in your diet is a rather foreign one to the Korean table whether it’s a Buddhist one or not.

Many Korean Buddhists, monks included, are sometimes flexitarian. Remember that not all schools of Buddhism adhere to veganism or vegetarianism. Buddha himself allowed his monks to eat some meat and seafood as long as the animal was not killed on their behalf. I think people in the West tend to view Buddhism and Buddhists through a lens of preciousness and unwavering purity that isn’t true. Life is a struggle.

I digress.

Of course there are ingredients or dishes that are thought to have the flavor of meat. I wouldn’t call them meat substitutes, meat analogues, or fake meat. I coined my own term “meat illusions”, i.e. ingredients or dishes that suggest meat, fish, or shellfish in terms of underlying flavor and texture.

I’m working on several of my own meat illusions that adhere to Korean Buddhism and Temple cooking. More soon.