Lunch at a Buddhist Temple – 85 of 365

Szechuan Tofu

This latest lunch adds nicely to the growing list of meals in bizarre places. Though not rising to the level of halal fish in a dress shop, vegetarian food at a Buddhist temple definitely epitomizes the “only in Vietnam” category.  A walled oasis may shield Viet Chay Restaurant (290/21A Nam Ky Khoi – District 3) from the midrise buildings and bustle along the busy airport road, but an ATM just inside is indeed an interesting welcome showing the real world is never far removed.  Is this comparable to sticking one of these automated money gods next to the holy water in a church?  Buddha sure has branched out and entered the consumer age.

“Vegetarian beer” seemed a most appropriate way to kick off any temple culinary experience for Laurel, Chet, and me.  As we debated what makes a beer meat free, I ran down the ingredient list in my head wondering if I somehow had it wrong all these years. Isn’t a beverage brewed from hops inherently plant based anyhow?  Our mystery was solved soon enough though when “vegetarian” turned out to be an alcohol free malt beverage brewed in the Netherlands called Bavaria for what seems to be a Middle East clientele based on the Arabic script plastered all over the can.

Vegetarian “Beef”

Our feast arrived and alcohol or not, the near beer proved no match to douse the Szechuan tofu induced mouth flames.  This stuff did a fierce burn going in and I prayed to Buddha it wouldn’t explode our insides on the way out.  The red sauce really did redefine spiciness in a great way.  Several other interesting choices such as spicy clay pot mushrooms, yellow curry with vegetarian “beef,” and mustard leaf wraps with tofu and herbs stuffed our guts until we could eat no more.

Being that this is actually a working temple, we did feel a bit compelled to soak in a little culture for dessert by walking into the main structure.  People leave offerings at large altars to please the spirits of loved ones, and the deceased seem to have a penchant for Coke, Chocobite brand cookies and Aquafina water.  Dropping straws into opened plastic bottles is such a thoughtful touch for the dead, too.

Tasty fresh food, adult size furniture, a banking facility, offerings to the dead, and guilt free beer…what more could we ask for with lunch?  We’ll be back for sure.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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