Guen maï, using pressure cooking; an original method of cooking the traditional soup of Zen monks and nuns. This method will always produce a creamy Guen maï, without ever burning or separating. There is no need to spend hours stirring.


We place a very heavy object on the lid so that it stays practically closed until the following day. We need a small source of energy in order to keep the liquid bubbling. The pressure due to the weight causes a constant movement. The combination of these two factors guarantees an even distribution of the heat so that the Guen maï never burns nor separates because the contents remain enclosed and sterile.

Guen-maï, traditional soup of zen monksThe night before

  1. Adding water - important: using 40g of rice per person, add 10 times the amount of water
  2. Put under pressure: allow to boil, then place a heavy weight on top of the lid (for example another pan filled with water). It should weigh between 50 and 100 kilos.
  3. Raise the heat high enough to see bubbles escaping from the pan. This shows that the mix of water/rice is moving inside, and therefore will not stick.
  4. Lower the heat so that the rate at which these bubbles escape is such that only a minimum of liquid escapes.
  5. Take a siesta. During the first two hours, only water escapes. It is not necessary to keep watching.
  6. Check the Guen maï. Later a sort of rice juice will start escaping. Check every half hour. Lower the flame slightly in order to minimize this loss of liquid and clean up. Cooking the rice takes at least 4, sometimes up to 5 hours.
  7. Cut the vegetables. During the general samu in the afternoon, prepare roughly a kilo of each of the following per 80-100 people: onions, carrots, leaks, celery and turnip.

The next morning

Guen-maï, traditional soup of zen monks

  1. Open the lid: at 06;30 in the morning, we open the lid for the first time…scary!
  2. Reheat: raise the temperature to boiling point, stirring vigorously with a large wooden spoon. The pan at Yujo is old and the heat is very high. The Guen maï burns in 30 seconds if we do not scrape the bottom well.
  3. Cook the vegetables. Put the cut vegetables in another small pan with just enough boiling water to cover them. Leave them to boil on a low heat for 10 minutes. Mix with the rice and close the lid once more using pressure. This will complete the cooking of the vegetables.
  4. Use everything: too often practitioners don’t have enough, while there is still Guen maï left over in the pan. What a shame!
  5. Leave to cool: turn off the heat before going to zazen in the morning. The Guen maï is better when it has been left to settle. If at the moment of serving it is still too hot, add a little cold water to cool it down, or better still, use the bowl with Guen maï from the previous day.
  6. Collect the left over Guen maï, at the moment of leaving the tables. Cover with cling film and store in the fridge.

Guen-maï, traditional soup of zen monksSamu - cutting vegetables.

There is no need to cut the vegetables very small. For a quick samu, you need cutting boards and fairly sharp, large knives. 

  1. The carrots should be cut 1) in slices 2) in long slivers 3) in cubes
  2. The same for the onions and the parsnips, except that it goes more quickly if step 1) and 2) are done in such a way that the vegetable remains in one piece for step 3).
  3. The leek should be cut in quarters (two cuts length wise) before being washed. The earth lies at the border between the green and the white. Afterwards we can cut them 1) into three 2) each third in strips 3) all the strips of each third may be cut together.
  4. The stalks of the celery are cut in the same way. The leaves are chopped. The vegetables should be covered with cling film and placed in the fridge ready to be cooked the following day. The people who came to help with the samu should wash the knives and chopping boards.

The vegetables should be covered with cling film and placed in the fridge ready to be cooked the following day. The people who came to help with the samu should wash the knives and chopping boards.

Guen-maï, traditional soup of zen monksRemarks

The longer the cooking lasts, the creamier the Guen maï becomes. At Shobogenji we recommend a cooking time of up to 10 hours, for a very creamy Guen maï.

We can easily measure accurately 10 times the volume of rice using jugs. Check that the jug is 4 times the volume of 400gr of rice. For 4 kilos of rice, we need 100 times the volume of 400gr of rice. Thus 25 jugs. We use two jugs, leaving the tap on, emptying and filling each jug alternately.

There is no need to wash the rice as this causes the loss of nourishing parts of the rice. Neither is it necessary to soak the rice.


Bon appétit!

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