Breakfast in a Sikh temple. Lunch in a Buddhist shrine. Sunday brunch in a Hindu house of worship. Several Vancouver tabernacles serve food to their congregations and visitors. Here’s the scoop on these spiritual, multicultural meals. Don't forget to give a donation for good karma.
Brunch for Hindus and hipsters
The line-up of dreadlocked, ripped-jeans-wearing hipsters stretching down the block looks more like the queue for a rave than the normal crowd you might find outside a Hindu temple. Yet when these faithful talk about going 'to Temple', they’re not going to weekly services – they’re headed for Sunday brunch.
Every Sunday afternoon, Shree Mahalakshmi Temple (www.shreemahalakshmitemple.ca), a Hindu house of worship in a modest peach-hued building in East Vancouver, serves a free Indian vegetarian meal to all-comers, from starving students to young families, older neighbors, and the hungry homeless.
Temple volunteers will heap your plate with rice, dal, homemade curries, chutney, yogurt and bread, and there’s usually a sweet as well. The line-up typically starts forming around 1:30, and lunch is served promptly at 2. The meal is free, but donations are accepted. And as long as the food lasts, you’re welcome to seconds.
Several buses from downtown Vancouver, including Bus 8 (Fraser) and Bus 19 (Metrotown), stop within a short walk of the temple.
On a weekday at the Ross Street Gurdwara (www.kdsross.com), a sprawling Sikh temple designed by the late Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson (better known for his iconic modernist buildings like Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology), the scene couldn’t be more different. In the airy light-filled sanctuary, sari-clad grandmothers sit on the carpeted flour, chanting and singing, while on the lower level, where long tables recall a school cafeteria, meals are being served.
A steady stream of women – heads covered with scarves or kerchiefs – and men wearing turbans stop at the sinks to wash their hands before picking up a tray. Volunteers scoop up rice, dal or curry, yogurt, bread and sweets; a sign advises diners to have as much food as they need. While visitors may be less common here, they’re welcome.
The free vegetarian meals are served daily between 6am and 8pm. If you can, leave a donation with the attendant at the entrance. To reach the temple from downtown, take the Canada Line to Marine Drive Station, then take Bus 100 (22nd Street) eastbound to Ross Street.
Fronted by a traditional Chinese garden, the International Buddhist Temple houses the largest Buddha statue in North America. And if touring this grand Buddhist shrine in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond calms your mind but stimulates your stomach, you can sate your hunger in the temple’s tearoom.
On the temple’s lower level, Zen Kitchen serves Chinese fare (mains $8-16, snacks $3.50-6), prepared according to Buddhist vegetarian principles. You can sample dim sum, like taro cakes and radish pastries, or lunch on vegetable stir-fries and noodle soups.
The restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:30am to 3pm, but it’s a good idea to call first, since festivals and other special events can disrupt the normal schedule. If you’re coming from downtown Vancouver, take the Canada Line to Richmond-Brighouse Station, then catch Bus 403 east to the temple.
- Be respectful. You’re a guest in a house of worship.
- Dress conservatively. Some temples request that visitors, both male and female, cover their arms and legs. Most will provide a head covering, if required. You may also be asked to remove your shoes.
- Even if you’re attending a 'free' meal, make a donation if you can.