It never crossed my mind to try vegetarian food in Japan, but I am sure glad that I was given the opportunity to try it. Among the dozens of meals I had during my last trip to Kansai, and some of them being really luxurious ones, the Shojin Ryori lunch at Enryakuji Kaikan was more memorable than the rest.
FYI, Enryakuji Kaikan is a temple lodging in Enryakuji Temple, a World Heritage Site situated on Mt Hiei. Visitors are able to book a short stay when visiting the temple, and their restaurant is where you could try Shojin Ryori.
That said, Enryakuji Kaikan is not the only place where you could experience Shojin Ryori. It’s just that it is located within the most significant monasteries in Japanese history, so it would make the experience even more special.
Shojin Ryori is a type of vegetarian cuisine prepared and eaten by Japanese Buddhist monks in the monastery. It was first brought into Japan by monks who studied Buddhism in China, then adapted the cooking to their own style and local ingredients.
Japanese people are known for using seasonal and high quality produce that are available, and that’s no different for Shojin Ryori.
A typical meal consists of dishes that provide a balance of 5 colors and flavors. Presentation wise, it’s as good as what you would get at any restaurant.
Since Shojin Ryori is 100% vegetarian (dairy products are usually omitted), safe to say it’s Muslim friendly. Some of the commonly used ingredients are tofu, wheat gluten, beans (simmered in soy sauce and sugar), mushrooms, pickled radishes and more importantly konnyaku.
Everything was delicious and I especially enjoyed the sesame tofu which had a creamy texture and nutty flavor. The konnyaku stips were great as well, tasteless by themselves, but appetizing to eat when dipped in the sweet vinegar miso sauce. And those are coming from a meat lover such as myself.
A chant is recited before and after the meal to express gratitude to the plants (they are also living beings) used in the food. You may not be able to understand the words, so just follow the monk’s lead.
To top it off, your meal will be accompanied by a wonderful view of the mountain’s natural surroundings, Otsu and Lake Biwa. If you are visiting Enryakuji Temple, I would definitely recommend having your lunch here. The Shojin Ryori meal @ 2,000 yen is available daily between 11.30am and 1.30pm, but reservation is highly advised.
4220 Sakamotohonmachi, Otsu, Shiga Prefecture 520-0116, Japan