Thursday, May 03, 2007 8:18 AM
Sanchon: Mountain temple cuisine
Although I tend to make an effort to go to a place like Pulhyanggi whenever I get a chance to go to Korea, I've long wanted to try another Seoul institution which is also known for fairly high end cuisine.
Sanchon, located in Insadong, offers an elaborate prix fixe vegetarian meal somewhat comparable to what you might find at a place like Pulhyanggi, but more firmly rooted in the Buddhist tradition. Pulhyanggi, while it was influenced by monastic cuisine, focuses more on the culinary traditions of the Korean aristocracy.
On my sixth evening in Seoul, I invited a friend to join me at the restaurant, and we arrived in the middle of the evening's entertainment. The location is a bit more intimate, and the stage is located right in the center of the dining room, which makes the experience a little more like a dinner theater than the more restrained approach at Pulhyanggi.
In fact, it was a little overwhelming... Sudden dramatic shifts in lighting, fairly loud drumming, occasional chanting or call-and-response bits, along with bursts of amplified recorded instrumentals, all presented just centimeters from our table, made the show the center of attention. It had a slight Disney vibe, though I noticed a few diners got quite into the drum performance.
Thankfully the performance soon ended and the restaurant lighting settled into something more comfortable for dining and conversation.
Small parcels of wrapped vegetables
We start off with this small serving of juk (rice porrige) and something remiscent of the crepes wrapped in the nine-sectioned dish from Pulhyanggi. The pancake dish has a bit stronger flavor than the nine-sectioned dish, perhaps from the addition of buckwheat in the crepes batter. We also receive a dish of some Korean mountain fruit, which was reminiscent of either omija berries or sansho, but didn't seem quite like either. We also have a simple mul gimchi, which unlike the previous water kimchi I've shown from this trip, was made without chilies, and is closer to the one I first experienced several years ago on my first trip to Korea.
Seven mountain vegetables
It's spring, so mountain vegetables have been in full swing. We receive a basket of them, alongside with some dressed bitter greens. In contrast to Pulhyanggi's rich, complex flavors, Sanchon's preparations and choices of ingredients tend to have a more austere, almost medicinal character.
Gosari wraps with gochujang
Another simple crepe-like dish with fresh, blanched gosari, jp. zenmai, known as bracken in the US. The gochujang made this one more exciting than I expected.
Full of daikon, tofu, scallions, and enoki, this is a very hearty miso stew.
Bellflower root in a spicy sauce
Actually, this might be gobo, but I think this dish is bellflower root. It's very nice... a little sweet-spicy.
Peanuts and honey
Peanuts with a something sweet, probably honey.
This one could turn into a dangerous habit... it's fried kombu, crunchy and slightly salty.
Fried spring vegetables
We received a plate of fried vegetables, made with a fairly heavy batter. I think one of these was fuki, and there was some renkon. It was served just slightly warm.
After-dinner rice confection
These ubiquitous sweets have a puffy, slightly glutinous, slightly crispy texture, and are generally made with various nuts. For me, they're sort of a guilty pleasure, though they don't seem so incredibly indulgent since they're only moderately sweet.