The purest form of Japanese cooking is a rare, 100 percent vegetarian style called shojin ryori, or temple cuisine, which has been practiced by the Zen Buddhist clergy in Japan for more than eight hundred years. “Shojin” means “perseverance and devotion,” and “ryori” means “cooking,” or “cuisine.” The theory behind shojin ryori is that food should enhance spiritual growth. Nothing is wasted. Only small portions of the simplest plant-based foods are used, but the result can be quite delicious.
A typical shojin meal might include stewed daikon with ground leek and miso sauce; steamed noodles topped with tofu paste, yam, and chopped wild chervil; and boiled spinach and steamed apple dressed with ground black sesame seeds.
There are five foundations of spirituality in Buddhism, and shojin cooking reflects the significance of the number five: it has five methods (raw, steamed, grilled, boiled, and fried), five colors (green, yellow, red, white, and black/purple) and five tastes (sweet, hot, bitter, sour, salty), and sometimes a sixth (umami, or savory).
[The] favorite aspect of shojin ryori is the five reflections, which are spoken by temple members prior to eating the meal.
THE FIVE FOOD REFLECTIONS
1. I reflect on the work that brings this food before me; let me see whence this food comes.
2. I reflect on my imperfections, on whether I am deserving of this offering of food.
3. Let me hold my mind free from preference and greed.
4. I take this food as an effective medicine to keep my body in good health.
5. I accept this food so that I will fulfill my task of enlightenment.