On Children’s Day, I took a stroll along the Cheonggyecheon stream, before meeting up with friends for dinner. With Buddha’s birthday coming up, the stream was decorated with lanterns and light sculptures, and since it was a national holiday, the place was overflowing with families enjoying the warm sunshine. I feel summer coming on!
Anyway, for dinner, I met up with Sae Hee and Kia, fellow vegan bakers in crime, to check out Balwoo (also sometimes spelled Baru) which is one of the well-known Temple food restaurants in Seoul. Temple food is generally really expensive so I don’t go often, but whenever I do, it’s always a nice cultural experience. I was expecting the restaurant to be a temple-style house with traditional tile or thatch roofing and with wooden pillars, etc, but turns out the restaurant is located in an industrial-like, 5-story, modern concrete structure, which is where you can also sign up for Temple stays, etc. It all seemed a bit incongruous, but not in a bad way. If Sanchon is the old school version of temple cuisine, think of Balwoo as the 21st century version.
Sae Hee had made reservations, so when we got to the restaurant, we were kindly ushered into one of the rooms with floor-seating. The ambiance was really nice- clean, bright, welcoming, modern yet traditional at the same time. After a quick glance over the menu, we picked the least expensive ‘Paramita’ meal, which includes 10 courses (25,000 won). The first things to come out were some mini towelettes, a bowl of ‘deodeok’ salad with seasonal greens vegetables, and a mini plate of radish kimchi. The salad was refreshing and had sweet flavor with a little bitter edge.
Course #4 was a platter of dumplings, tofu cubes with different pickled herbs, and rice wrapped in wild leaves. I didn’t think much of the rice wraps or the tofu cubes… They looked cute and pretty, but were rather forgettable in flavor.
Next, we got a deep fried mushroom dish, which was like a vegetarian version of spicy, sweet and sour pork. This was our unanimous favorite dish of the meal, probably because it was so much more intense in flavor than everything else. Deliciously crispy-crunchy on the outside, and then chewy on the inside.
This was a fun component of the meal, like unwrapping a present. The rice was chewy and sweet, and topped with chestnuts, jujube slices, gingko, and black sesame seeds. It felt similar to eating sticky, sweet Thai coconut rice. Really nice.
To end the meal, we got a bowl of dehydrated fruits and fried veggie chips. My favorites were the lotus chips and a dehydrated orange wheel, which you can’t see in the picture. It was amazingly sweet and crispy! The portions were rather small to share between three people though…
Overall, I really enjoyed Balwoo. The food was good and not entirely bland like other temple restaurants, however, I also didn’t find it to be that memorable. So far, my most impressive Temple food experience has been at Gam Lo Dang. Not only do you get more food for the amount you pay, but everything is sooo colorful and unique, and served with such precision and flare, that you really come away feeling like you’ve experienced something new. By all means though, Balwoo serves good temple cuisine, and I’m sure that the other courses will have plenty of more dramatic, extravagant, dishes. It’s also nice knowing that everything is cruelty-free! :)
110-170 서울시 종로구 견지동 71번지 템플스테ㅣ 5층
71 Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-170
Directions: Anguk Station, Exit 6. Walk straight, pass the entrance to Insadong road, and keep walking til you get to the next main intersection. Turn left and walk a few minutes. Balwoo will be on your left, on the 5th floor of the Temple Stay Building, directly across from the big Jogyesa Temple. **reservations recommended