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By invitation only—the exclusive Buddhist cuisine, Fucha Ryori

By invitation only—the exclusive Buddhist cuisine, Fucha Ryori

Shojin Ryori (精進料理 Shōjin Ryōri) is a completely vegetarian Japanese Buddhist cuisine created by the founder of Zen Buddhism, Dogen Zenji (道元禅師). This Zen master in turn got inspiration from Chinese Buddhist cuisine when he went there to study in his youth. The core meaning behind Shojin Ryori is to not consume any animals as a way to purify the body. Modern pilgrims still eat Shojin Ryori during the duration of their journey so as to keep in touch with the old customs. The food is seasonal, taken from the earth and represents the sober lifestyle monks adhere to. However, this temple in Uji (宇治市 Uji-shi), Kyoto (京都府 Kyōto-fu), does it a bit differently.

 

(Image credit: Ilse Montald)


Manpuku-ji (萬福寺 Manpuku Temple) is one of the only Chinese-style temples in all of Japan and was founded by Ingen Zenji (隠元禅師) in 1661. A key figure of Chinese Zen Buddhism, he travelled to Japan to spread his teachings when he was offered a piece of land in Uji to build his temple. Here he introduced many Buddhist objects that are still used today such as the Mokugyo (木魚 bell for prayers) and the deity Hotei Son (布袋), the God of Fortune. But what this cultural heritage is most known for is its twist on Shojin Ryori called Fucha Ryori (普茶料理). Its literal meaning is “to serve tea to the people” and incorporates traditional Chinese medicine with Buddhist customs. A maximum of four people can attend and no food is to be left behind. While it is possible to make reservations for a bento box—limited to 30 people per day—within Manpuku-ji, the real Fucha Ryori is found in a small restaurant on the temple grounds.

 

(Image credit: Ilse Montald)

 

Ichoan (銀杏庵) is a restaurant that only allows four people every day for lunch as per the old customs. To add to the exclusivity, you need to be introduced by someone who has already visited before. What makes this lunch so unique isn’t only the combination of Buddhism and Chinese medicine but the sheer volume and effort that goes into every dish. Since its founding, Manpuku-ji received less and less Buddhist trainees so it changed its cuisine into a gorgeous feast to appease high-ranking visitors. This is what truly makes Fucha Ryori stand out from the standard Shojin Ryori.

 

(Image credit: Ilse Montald)

 

The first course was a variety of small traditional Buddhist dishes, carefully prepared and dressed up as little works of art. As the current season is winter, we got served seasonal produce such as eggplants and yuzu citrus fruit. While on its own this was filling enough, next came a fried mixture of tofu and vegetables, baked persimmons stuffed with mushrooms, and ebi-imo small potatoes topped with yuzu miso. The truly unique piece from this course was the dumpling with truffle in a tall ceramic cup. This tall cup is what all Buddhist pilgrims used to wear on their belt during their travels. The longer part has holes in it where pilgrims looped a string to tie the cup to their belt. This way they always had a cup handy when stopping for a drink. 

 

 

(Image credit: Ilse Montald)

 

Yuzu was featured again as jelly and mixed with tofu in fried dough balls and spring rolls. It didn’t stop there as next came tofu with wasabi and tempura of a variety of unique roots and flowers. The staff told us that only Fucha Ryori makes flower tempura so this is truly a rare experience. Pickles were the last dish to be featured, of course all handmade, paired with chestnut/bean rice. Fun fact, the now popular ingen-mame beans are actually named after Ingen Zenji as he came up with the recipe. For dessert, a candied dried persimmon, matcha, and melon slices to end our gastronomic journey on a sweet note.

 

(Image credit: Ilse Montald)

 

After finishing, we realized that Manpuku-ji might have taken its name from the Japanese phrase “manpuku” (満腹 to have a full stomach). Should you have the chance to score a recommendation, I highly recommend a visit to this unique restaurant to experience a truly special type of cuisine.

 

Obakusan Mampukuji Temple (黄檗山萬福寺)
Address: 34 Sanbanwari, Gokasho, Uji-shi, Kyoto 611-0011
Nearest station: Oubaku Station (黄檗駅)
Opening hours: 09:00–17:00
Admission fee: ¥500 (Adults, College/High school students), ¥300 (Middle school/elementary school students)
Tel: +81-774-32-3900

 

Header image credit: Ilse Montald

 

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