“Luo Han Zhai” (Luo Han means arhat in Buddhism) has become a regular vegetable dish on every Guangzhou family’s dinner table since it served as the “food for monks” in Song dynasty. Not only does it carry the delicate fragrance of Buddhism, but also has the joy of the mortal world.
Guangzhou’s Luo Han Zhai is known by the “Eighteen Disciples of Buddha Zhai”, or the “18 Luo Han Zhai”. It wins the reputation from people being fastidious about the rich ingredients, but this dish is rarely seen today. It is too luxurious and does not carry on any spirit of Buddhism, and it simply cannot stand well with the intense competitions under the current Chinese market economic principles.
The cooking methods of any ordinary Luo Han Zhai are approximately the same among Guangzhou’s several large vegetable restaurants, and there are also not much differences comparing the nation’s main cuisines. But in the folk, people cook the dish in their own ways and the procedures can be very different. Rich families, of course, will always have “three mushrooms & six ears (wood ears)” (the phrase implies “rich” in China), and everything else needed. But it is also called “Luo Han Zhai” if cooked with just three or five main ingredients in low income families. Such spirit comes from the Buddhist for sure.