Temple Foods of Korea │ Burdock Pan-fried Pancakes from Geumsu-am Hermitage in Sancheong County __ Lee Gyeong-ae

Burdock Pan-fried Pancakes

from Geumsu-am Hermitage in
Sancheong County

Temple food is not so oriented to the taste buds, but rather to more conscious principles highlighting the use of as many wild natural ingredients as possible, and also within the context of dietary restrictions of monastic kitchen culture. For example, monastic food usually does not include five members of the onion family (garlic, onion, chives, wild chives and Japanese jacinth) due to strict dietary rules. Even so, the varieties of temple cuisine are as surprisingly diverse as cuisine found outside the monastic lifestyle. In the pursuit of wisdom, temple food definitely helps enlighten many monks and nuns living under temple rules, as if they understand life better through the foods they eat. Especially noteworthy is that they gather and prepare as many natural greens, herbs and flowers as they can find in the fields and mountains in addition to what they grow in their gardens. Then, the temple master picks those wild medicinal greens to nourish the monastic family. One unique aspect of temple cuisine is that it uses the unique properties of each plant and combines them in such a way to promote health and healing. It is quite interesting to see the diverse ways monks prepare and cook vegetables and greens. For example, there are more than 20 ways to prepare and cook radishes so that they make people healthier. Furthermore, even lettuce can be made into soups, stews and pancakes; it can also be steamed, blanched, and of course fermented to make kimchi and kimchi soup.

Root vegetables are not only tasty but also nutritionally rich and often appear in temple dishes. One of the most popular root vegetables in temple cuisine is burdock root. Burdock is limited in its use in dishes because of the complicated process required to cook it. Basically, it has to be boiled down first to tenderize the hard fibrous parts, and as the fibers soften, it is seasoned with soy sauce. This method of preparing it is also very common in making non-monastic foods. However, burdock in temple food is impressively versatile in making various dishes like congee, cooked rice and pickles, kimchi, japchae (glazed sweet potato noodles), pancakes, stir-fry, deep fry, stew, gravy, chips, and biscuits. The baby leaves of burdock are also quite tender, hence they are often used as an edible wrapper for rice wrapper as well as steamed-seasoned salad.

The main root is very high in sugar, yet it has very little starch making it good for people with diabetes. It provides a lot of minerals, which help heal any infections of the respiratory system. It also is rich in calcium and potassium to support muscle and bones, and vitamin C. That is why for centuries burdock has been an excellent source of nourishment for monastics in winter. Burdock root is exceptionally good for cooling down fever, and it is high in fiber with a high content of cellulose and lignin. Those types of fiber greatly stimulate intestinal movement so that more moisture is retained throughout the digestion process. Thus it helps to prevent constipation as well as colon cancer.

Temple Food Researcher Ven. Daean


Burdock Pan-fried Pancakes
for pan-fried burdock pancakes from Ven. Daean.


Burdock root, unbleached flour, lightly salted soy sauce, hot pepper powder,
bamboo-baked salt, sesame oil, olive oil

  1. Rinse off the root and peel the skin. After peeling, cut into preferable size and steam in a slow cooker. It is important to keep the pieces unbroken as they are being cooked in slow cooker for the later.

  2. While slow cooking, prepare a marinade by mixing a teaspoon of hot pepper powder with some sesame oil.
  3. To prepare the batter, add a teaspoon of bamboo salt to flour, add water to make a thin batter.

  4. After removing from the slow cooker, and before they cool down, beat the burdock roots gently.

  5. To marinate, first gently brush the roots and leave them for a while to absorb the flavor.

  6. After heating the pan, carefully arrange all the marinated pieces in the frying pan three or four pieces at a time. Frequently flip them over with a spatula while pouring the thin batter over them from one side to the other side slowly, and make sure to use low heat to avoid burning them.

In winter up in the mountains, many monks and nuns not only lack fresh greens, but also outdoor work and exercise. At this time burdock is an especially wise choice for nourishing the temple community. The good news about burdock is that it is a biennial plant that always self-seeds every two years all around the Korean mountains so that is easy to find burdock roots in any of Korea’s mountains. As a biennial, it takes about two years for a burdock plant to mature until it reproduces. In the first year, the plant develops vegetative structures, then lies dormant during the winter. It will reproduce the following summer. Burdock root is commonly used in temple cuisine in winter.

One unique temple dish is pan-fried burdock pancake. In fact, it is not easy to coat with batter, as the root’s dry skin does not hold the batter well. It either makes a too thin coating or too thick, which results in poor taste and texture. The gaps that form between the fibers make for irregular shapes and that requires some special talent for cooking. In making the pancake, firstly, you need to put every cut piece of burdock root into a wide frying pan. As you put all the pieces together, try to allow as little gaps as possible to form. So you have to fill the gaps just thin enough to create the perfect texture of the batter. Sometimes the inside frying pan is likely to burn the edges of the pancake while frying, yet burdock roots do not dissolve well in the marinade sauce. The pieces are various sizes and all uneven shapes. So it is important to put all the pieces together in order to not destroy them when turning them over to more evenly cook both sides. Sometimes the batter is too thin to flip and then can burn the marinated burdock in the pan. This makes it harder to flip the pancake in the pan. Flipping a burdock pancake takes some practice and time. That is why many Korean temples are losing this beautiful heirloom Buddhist monastery food. The unfortunate consequence is that burdock pancake, and essential part of temple cuisine is becoming rare and rare ceremonies.

Ven. Daean is keen to promote the popularization of traditional Korean temple food and often makes this rare and forgotten temple dish in winter. He learned this traditional recipe from his old teacher Ven. Seongwon at Gukilam Hermitage, who turns ninety this year. Ven. Seongwon says his passion for making these pancakes is rooted in his desire to pass on as many traditions of monastic life as he can. As I ate the traditional burdock pancake, I found the flavor was uniquely refreshing and aromatic. The sweet aroma of burdock roots is quite distinctive and the natural flavor gets stronger as it stores well over the course of winter.  The flavor is excellent with a pleasant texture for chewing; it also leaves a clean aftertaste. The roots’ natural sugar content in conjunction with other rich nutrients (calcium, potassium, vitamins, fiber and beneficial fats) is a source of bountiful nutrition in the cold months of winter. 

Lee Gyeong-ae | Bukchon Museum Director

Geumsu-am Hermitage

Geumseo-myun Sujeolri in Sancheong-gun Gyeung-nam Province. Tel: 055-973-6601   Tel: 055-973-6601

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