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Perhaps because of the Holiday season and all its indulgences and elaborate meals, I really find myself wanting to post about a wonderful meal I enjoyed on Mount Emei, one of the sacred Buddhist mountains in China.

While in Sichuan, we decided to hike up Mt. Emei, sleep at the top, and witness the sunrise on the Golden Summit, a spectacle that the Chinese flock to and that is really amazing to behold. Within about 2 minutes, you see the sun appear and fully rise above the horizon, bathing a Golden Pagoda on the summit in sparkling light. Lots of ooohs and aaahs and pictures!

But first things first – we hiked up Mt. Emei. This entailed waking up before the sun had risen, taking a bus to the base of the mountain, and climbing 23.5 kilometers (14.6 miles) of stairs, crossing a 3 kilometer (1.9 mile) height difference and a 23 degree Celsius (35 degree Fahrenheit) temperature difference. It took us 11 hours, sweat, bamboo poles as walking sticks (best 1 yuan we ever, ever spent!), desperate jokes and jello legs, but we made it. While some areas are accessible by cable car and teem with visitors, the vast majority of those 11 hours we spent alone, with the exception of 3 or so hours in the company of a total of maybe 15 Chinese people of all ages that were just as desperate as us. We arrived just as the sun was setting at Jieyin Hall, the last temple before the summit.

At the temple, we were shown to a room with beds with piles and piles of blankets and heating pads, as well as a wash bowl to take in the morning to wash. Then, we had a temple food – simple, vegetarian, wholesome, and beyond delicious.

There was rice, steamed winter melon (the cucumber-esque looking dish), a simple leafy green soup, stir-fried string beans (I ate 3 plates. What? They were the best string beans I have ever tasted, and I had just climbed 11 hours worth of stairs!) and boiled bamboo sprouts with mushrooms. It was a feast, we could have as much as we wanted, and I can’t begin to explain how wonderful this simple, Bhuddist meal was. No bells and whistles, no fancy ingredients – just beautiful produce prepared in the simplest ways to make it shine. Sometimes I wish more meals were like this.

Will you miss Holiday foods, or are you ready for a break from fancy meals? Have you had similar experiences with spiritually shaped dishes?