[Temple to Table] Deep flavor of soybeans, cheonggukjang
Published : Jan 8, 2022 - 16:00
Updated : Jan 8, 2022 - 16:00
Cheonggukjang (Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism)
In my childhood there was always a basket of fermenting cheonggukjang, rich soybean paste, on the warm part of the ondol floor of the room where I wanted to lie down. I used to grumble to my mom why she had to put it there, and I pleaded with her not to make it anymore because I didn’t need to eat it.

I didn’t realize until I was out in the real world how much effort and devotion it takes to make it. Now, as an adult, I appreciate the full, deep taste of cheonggukjang.

The fun part of making cheonggukjang is sharing it. Although it is simpler to make than doenjang, it takes about full five days to make cheonggukjang, if you include buying and washing the beans. Many of us don’t make it at home because we don’t know how to, or it takes too much work. I would make small amounts of cheonggukjang if it is only for myself, but I try to ferment enough beans to share with the old women devotees and monastics of my temple. They cherish a block of homemade cheonggukjang more than anything else. Some female devotees say, “I receive more from the temple than I give.” But I share because it is an act that accumulates merit and because I can.

I love cheonggukjang more than other foods because I can make it myself. I love the whole process: From selecting the beans to the last day of fermenting it. It’s not like buying food ingredients and cooking. When we know and experience the whole process of preparing our food, our attitude and appreciation for it change. I don’t throw away the water the beans soak in or the foam caused by boiling because I want to receive every molecule of nutrition they have to offer. Now I need to get busy making some more cheonggukjang.

Important source of protein for practitioners

As far as I know, cheonggukjang is only eaten in Korea. Because the name “cheongguk” also means “Qing China,” some people believe it was introduced from Qing, but that is only speculation. One record says cheonggukjang was eaten in the Joseon era, so it may predate even that. In the past, when Koreans ate less meat than we do now, beans were the main source of protein.

At temples, cheonggukjang often appears on the table when the cold winds begin to blow. Needless to say, monastics eat it frequently in winter. Cheonggukjang is a valued condiment at temples. Monastics love any food made from beans. Various processed bean foods, including soy ham, are popular among monastics nowadays, but Seon (Chan/Zen) practitioners tend to shun them. That’s because as you eat more of them, they all begin to taste the same. Even a good cook can only do so much with processed bean foods. They are also more difficult to digest.

Monastics enjoy eating rice cooked with beans, easy-to-digest tofu, and cheonggukjang. Cheonggukjang is easier to digest than tofu. Especially for older monastics who have sensitive digestive systems, cheonggukjang is highly recommended to prevent constipation. Recently, as COVID-19 makes us realize the importance of our immune systems, more young people are coming to like cheonggukjang.

How to make cheonggukjang stew


1 cup cheonggukjang

1 tbsp doenjang

veggie stock (made from dried kelp, dried shiitake mushrooms, white radish, water)

sour kimchi



oyster mushrooms

spicy green chile peppers and red chili peppers


1. Cut sour kimchi, zucchini, and tofu into bite-size pieces, and slice chile peppers diagonally. Tear oyster mushrooms into strands.

2. Add sour kimchi to boiling veggie stock.

3. Add zucchini, oyster mushrooms, tofu and chili peppers, in order, to the stock boil.

4. When the ingredients are almost cooked, add cheonggukjang and doenjang, and mix well until any lumps are gone. Bring to the boil and turn off heat.

Recipe by Ven. Yeogeo, specialist instructor at the Korean Temple Food Center

Provided by Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism


Temple food is food of the ascetics who express gratitude for all forms of life and wish for peace for the whole world. The Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism operates the Korean Temple Food Center where guests can learn and experience temple food. -- Ed.

By Korea Herald (