Temple Foods of Korea, Muakjeoji at Yeong-am Mangwol-sa Temple __ Lee Kyeong-ae


at Yeong-am, Mangwol-sa Temple



A Peppery and Sweet Temple Dish

Have you heard of “Muakjeoji”? In times past, this traditional temple dish was a staple temple dish served in winter. It has a piquant, tangy, peppery, taste  but a soft deep flavor. It is made by cutting up a large Korean white radish into 3 or 4 large pieces and boiling them for about two hours in an iron pot with perilla seed oil, pieces of kelp, pepper-water, and Joseon soy sauce (also called ‘soup soy sauce’ and not to be confused with regular soy sauce). Buddhist monks and nuns usually avoid pungent foods, but an exception was made for Muakjeoji because the pepper and radish complemented each other so well and it is nutritious. Muakjeoji not only relieves congestion and prevents cold, but is also suitable for financially-strapped temples in winter because it is relatively cheap to make and can feed many people. Over the years, Muakjeoji has slowly disappeared as a temple food. After hearing from a photographer that humble Mangwol-sa Temple on Mt. Youngam-san in Jeollanam-do Province served it from time to time I rushed there to try it. Mangwol-sa Temple is special because Master Jeonggwan is considered a great cook and he practices dongsa-seop (cooperation with others to lead them into the truth) at this temple.


Devotion That Ripens With Memories

In the late evening, after his meetings with other Buddhists were concluded, Master Jeonggwan was able to begin making Muakjeoji. This would be the man side  dish at the temple’s evening offering to Buddha. A basket of radishes was brought from the storehouse and washed and trimmed, along with carrots and  shiitake mushrooms which would be used for garnish. Joseon soy sauce, ginger, pepper powder, and perilla seed oil were added. Master Jeonggwan pulled up his robe sleeves and carefully and joyfully continued the preparation. While cooking, the Muakjeoji of his memories started to resurface.



R e c i p e


Ingredients radish, kelp, dried shiitake mushroom, carrot, pepper-powder, perilla seed oil, ginger, dried whole pepper, jujube, soup soy sauce.





  1. Soak dried shiitake mushrooms after washing.

  2. Wash radish and chop into large pieces with the skin left on.

  3. Peel carrots and cut into ‘bite-size’ piece.

  4. Peel ginger and slice thinly.

  5. Cut dried whole pepper in half, remove seeds, and cut into 3 to 4 slices.

  6. Clean kelp and cut into ‘bite-size’ piece. Wash the jujube and remove seeds.

  7. Cut the soaked shiitake mushroom into 3 to 4 pieces and keep the water they were soaked in.

  8. Heat the stir-fry pan, cover with perilla seed oil, and add radish when oil boils.

  9. After the oil seeps into the radish evenly, add the pepper powder and remaining ingredients. Do not add water because the water from the radish will mix naturally with the pepper powder.

  10. Prepare seasoning according to preference with water and soup soy sauce and add to ingredients so that they are submerged in the seasoning. Boil over moderate heat for 30 to 40 minutes. Do not stir until the radish is completely soft and evenly covered with the seasoning.

* When made into Muakjeoji even pulpy, tasteless radishes can be tasty.


In the past, radishes probably made up half of a temple kitchen’s food stores in winter. Harvested radishes were buried in the backyard under dirt and straw  to product them from wind and cold. This was a very important preparation for the winter. This chore and preparing the numerous side dishes to offer the Buddha was the duty of the Chaegong (person who takes care of vegetables in temple) and every practitioner was tasked with this responsibility at some point.  These traditions and ways of cooking were passed down from monk to monk as they studied meditation practice.


Master Jeonggwan, who had previously resided at Yangjin-am Hermitage of Donghwa-sa Temple, learned from other masters of temple food such as monks Seongyeon and Il-hong. On those days when the teaching was difficult, the elder monks would make their own special dishes for their younger students, and such foods became a part of their training. Master Jeonggwan remembers more than twenty dishes from his time in training, such as: radish rice, radish soup, radish porridge, radish pancake, radish salad, radish herbs, radish preserved with salt, radish water kimchi, cubed radish kimchi, radish shred kimchi, pickled radish, steamed radish, Muakjeoji, radish steamed rice cake, and four different types of dried radish slice dishes. The most frequently prepared of these was Muakjeoji. Many monks recall it was sometimes the only side dish available.


▲ A well filled with water that flows between rocks deep below the monk’s
dormitory at Mangwol-sa Temple. The well is the depth of a grown man and has
sweet-tasting water, the secret to Mangwol-sa’s delicious temple food.

On such days the Chaegong would begin preparing Muakjeoji at 9 a.m. in the morning. This’s because it takes at least two hours to boil the radishes. A few drops of perilla seed oil and pepper powder must seep evenly into the radish pieces, and everything must cook evenly from top to bottom without stirring.  Therefore it is crucial that the wood fire be only moderately hot when boiling the Muakjeoji. Cooking Muakjeoji requires patience and attention to detail. Monks remember that patience and attention to the many steps to make Muakjeoji required devotion and was one the first things to learn in the kitchen. As Master Jeonggwan shared his story with us, the Muakjeoji finally finished cooking. The flavor, and sizes of the radishes were fit for modern tastes. However this still took a long time to cook. Master Jeonggwan said that was unfortunate. Because of the time and effort required to make Muakjeoji, monks often don’t make it anymore. Nevertheless, Buddhists gather around the kitchen, drawn by its spicy and sweet scent wafting through the air. We all know that healthy food  leads to a healthy body, and it appears Master Jeonggwan’s practice of Dongsa-seop will keep him and the other monks busy.

Lee Gyeong-ae | Bukchon Museum Director

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