Buddhist food is prepared by the followers of Buddhism, who live predominantly in Asia. Several countries like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan have Buddhist population. The Buddhist cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, although there are non-vegetarians too.
Buddhism is classified into two main branches: Mahayana and Theravada. The former is followed by the majority and closely resembles early Buddhism.
Cultural and Historical Influences
The vegetarianism concept of Buddhism comes from the fact that Buddhists abstain from harming lives or killing, both human and non-humans. However, there is diversity of practices and beliefs among Buddhists regarding this. Some believe that eating meat itself does not constitute killing as the meat-eater is not directly involved in the killing. Thus, vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism co-exist in the Buddhist community. Meat-eating Buddhists may comply with certain restrictions with regard to meat.
· Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and onions are not consumed on special days.
· Pungent foods such as garlic, asafoetida, leeks, onions, coriander, and shallots are not consumed as they tend to excite senses.
· Non-vegetarian Buddhists consume only triply clean meat and refrain from eating large animals such as beef or animal organs.
· Fasting is practiced on full moon day and new moon day by Buddhist monks.
Most vegetables, with the exception of the five pungent ones as described above, are consumed. These include tofu, cabbage, zucchini, mushrooms, beans, and spinach. Eggs, fish, and meat (with restrictions as above) are used by certain Buddhist communities. For vegetarians, gluten, agar, and tofu serve as meat substitutes. Several spices such as cinnamon, black bean powder, and mushroom powder are used in Buddhist style of cooking.
Everyday Buddhist Food
This differs from country to country. Typically, a Buddhist food is very similar to what others of the same region eat with a few dietary exceptions. The same applies to festival foods and desserts.
Lo han jai, which is also known as Buddha’s Delight, is a traditional vegetarian dish of the Buddhist cuisine. The dish is prepared with a variety of vegetables, but the ingredients vary regionally. The Buddhist monk soup is prepared with pumpkins, beans, cellophane noodles, and sweet potato.
As Buddhist food comprises several dishes made from vegetables, the people get enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber through these. Meat-eating Buddhists get the protein from the meat they consume. However, non-meat eaters get their protein from nuts, tofu, beans, and other sources. Nuts like almonds are heart healthy and reduce the risk of heart ailments. Non-vegetarian dishes, as with any cuisine, are a source of fat and cholesterol and are not good for the health. However, vegetarian Buddhist food is known to be low in calories, fat, and cholesterol and is considered healthy.