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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Dining in Paradise

R: Govinda's is not an eatery with a fancy menu or exotic specialties created by a chef trained at a fancy cooking school. It's an all-vegetarian restaurant that is an integral part of the Hari Krishna Temple in West Los Angeles.

Z: Frankly, we didn't know what to expect, but we did suspect our visit would be an experience unlike any of our other dining adventures.

R: On a residential street off National Blvd., the side by-side 30-year old Temple and the restaurant appear well-maintained, and inviting with a few umbrella tables outside and attractive landscaping featuring potted palms and raised grassy beds. The sign on the Temple reads, "International Society for Krishna Consciousness." Lunchtime brought a bustling crowd outside, some to socialize, others to gravitate to the tables for their midday meal.

Z: From the outside, the tantalizing aromas of exotic foods drifted in the air. Upon entering, we could choose to go directly upstairs to the gift shop, join the buffet line on the right, or order a beverage at the juice bar on the left. Our hunger pangs led us directly to the food line where Noah, a robed young man, greeted us with welcoming words and oriented us on their lunch offerings.

R: The buffet was divided into two diverse food sections. On the left was the attractive salad bar with everything looking invitingly fresh and crisp. The hot steam trays with mildly spiced Indian style selections were on the right side.

Z: The heartier offerings included Brown Rice, Basmati Rice, Mixed Vegetable Soup, Steamed Sweet Potatoes, Yellow Split Pea Dal, Spinach Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce, and Carob Helva.

R: The choices were healthful, and one could certainly eat well here in a simple, clean, and unadorned atmosphere. Chef

Z: We opted for the salad bar and heaped our plates with cubes of tofu and generous portions of vegetables prepared fresh that morning. Their homemade dressings consisted of two dairy and two non-dairy choices. The non-dairy dressings included a Spicy Peanut and a Tahini. Vegetarians could choose either the Creamy Italian or the Bell Pepper Dressing.

R: Zel, who is often drawn to the zesty foods, chose the Spicy Peanut Dressing, while I ladled on the Tahini Dressing. Both were nicely seasoned and turned our salads into a thoroughly satisfying lunch.

Z: Just beyond the hot steam trays were the desserts. The Vanilla Carob Swirl Cake and the Buckwheat Codicy Cake were perched on raised cake displays near the cash register. They were tempting, but we resisted.

R: Govinda's could become a regular habit for economy-minded people who want affordable, healthy meals. The full lunch buffet is a very reasonable $5.50, while the same meal at dinnertime is $6.50. Soup, salad, and bread are only $4.50, and seniors receive a $2 discount on any meal.

Z: Or, if you prefer the pay-by-the-pound plan, you can heap your plate to your heart's content, and have the cashier weigh your dish at the register. For a mere $2 a pound you could eat a hearty meal.

R: We noticed that there were two dining areas inside but decided to take advantage of the warming sun at an outdoor table. Within moments a casually dressed man asked if he could join us at the table, and shortly after, an elderly woman dressed in exotic clothing joined us also.

Z: Because we always welcome stimulating conversation, it wasn't long before we were all chatting. Vladimir, whose Sanscrit name is Valmiki Muni Das, was a classical musician from Russia and became interested in the Hari Krishna Temple while still living in Russia. The woman, a regular at Govinda's, was so congenial she felt like an old friend we hadn't seen for some time.

R: We learned that Vladimir is an active member of the Hari Krishna Temple and lives across the street in one of the seven buildings owned by the temple. His contribution to the temple community is working in the kitchen where he spends each morning preparing the salad bar ingredients.

Z: We commented that because he was wearing jeans and a T-shirt rather than the traditional robes, we didn't recognize him as a Hari Krishna member. He explained that the robes are not practical kitchen attire.

R: Soon Noah joined us and seemed eager to answer our many questions. This was definitely an opportunity to expand our limited knowledge of the Hari Krishna world. Noah mentioned that not every member has chosen to take the vows that include celibacy if not married, abstaining from eating meat, abstaining from alcohol, illicit sex, and gambling. In addition there are ritual prayers and chanting to purify the consciousness.

Z: Humanitarian efforts are an integral part of the Hari Krishna focus. Food For Life Global at http://www.ffl.org is their web site that describes them as the worlds largest vegan/vegetarian food relief organization in the world. On a daily basis they distribute 30,000 karma-free meals to needy people around the world.

R: On the local scene, every Sunday they hold a Love Feast Festival at 5:30 p.m. that is open to the public. Following at 6:30 p.m. they serve a free meal. Their belief is that one receives spiritual advancement when taking part in the feast.

Z: While this restaurant and temple are one of the largest of the Hari Krishna's holdings, there are similar facilities in Milan, Holland, Florida, Hawaii, New York, and Dallas. Our final exploration was a brief visit to the gift shop upstairs where we browsed among the souvenirs that included books, jewelry, natural body care products, and clothes. Our eyes were bedazzled by the abundance of colorful clothing imported from India.

R: We found the afternoon a stimulating experience. Some people may wonder if we were proselytized or asked for contributions. The answer is a definitive "no." It was a congenial and welcoming atmosphere with no hard sell and no strings attached.

Govinda's Natural Foods
3764 Watseka Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90034
Phone: 310-836-1269
Hours: Monday through Saturday 11: a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Reviewed May 2002

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