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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 21, 2003

Say a mantra, enjoy Indian aromas at temple

By Matthew Gray

If you don't mind a little religious philosophy with your food, you can experience an inexpensive vegetarian lunch buffet any weekday at Govinda's inside the Hare Krishna Temple off the Pali Highway.

Vraja McAllister, foreground, and sister Gita serve themselves from the buffet at Govinda's, inside the Hare Krishna Temple. The restaurant offers tasty dumplings in a tomato sauce, as well as salads, soups, spicy cabbage curry, homemade breads and dessert.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser


(inside the Hare Krishna Temple)

51 Coelho Way

Vegetarian buffet
11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays



For $7, plus tax, you get a meal that's vaguely Indian and can be enjoyed beneath a gargantuan, beautiful banyan tree outside the temple, although there's a small dining room, too. Some people just sit on the front porch steps.

The patrons run the gamut, from downtown office workers to hippies, "regular" folks to Krishna followers. The atmosphere is spiritually heady, to say the least. The vegetarian aspect of the lunch buffet is easy to understand: The temple's foundation is in the ancient religious belief of the sacred cow.

But who or what is Krishna, and what is the philosophy of its devotees? And what's the meaning of that once-ubiquitous Hare Krishna chant?

Krishna is a name for the Supreme, meaning "all-attractive." It is said that anything that attracts you has its source in the Supreme. The Supreme is also known as Rama, meaning "the highest eternal pleasure."

There's a core belief that all of us are pleasure-seeking creatures. I know I am. The chanting of "Hare Krishna" is a way of seeking this directly; it need not be a religious exercise.

Chanting Hare Krishna is said to bring out that natural, pure state of mind and is called a mantra, a vibration of sound that cleanses the mind, freeing it from anxiety and illusion. It's a mantra anyone can chant, they say.

I'm usually an animal of technique, not philosophy, but this particular one wasn't difficult to accept, so I left my skepticism at the door (along with my shoes and socks), and had at the buffet with paper plates and plastic utensils.

The spread is small, featuring kofta (aka kofte), salad, steamed vegetables, a cabbage curry, soups and a rather nice dessert.

A kofta is a soft and savory meatball-shaped sphere, fashioned from bread and potatoes, almost like a fragile dumpling, and served in tomato sauce. This took on an Indian flavor with the addition of turmeric, garlic, chile and garam masala, a seasoning made by blending dry-roasted, ground spices, including black pepper, cumin, cloves, and cardamom; it's in the cooking throughout northern India.

Salad items such as lettuce, cucumber, carrot, broccoli and sprouts were offered with a dressing that appeared to have its origins in sesame paste (tahini), which also could be drizzled over the steamed veggies.

A spicy cabbage curry with bits of zucchini and asparagus was the other hot entree. Two soups, a thin spicy yellow dal (lentils) and a hearty chili-tofu were at the ready. Delicious homemade wheat bread and (surprisingly) white rice, not brown, completed the savory offerings.

The dessert halwa (not to be confused with halvah, the sesame candy from the Middle East) is a traditional Indian pudding of sorts, made with farina (aka cream of wheat), butter, sugar, raisins, nuts and vanilla. These are cooked together, spread into a pan and allowed to cool, then cut into squares. They're really quite good. Watered-down orange juice and water are the free beverages.

Govinda's was a new experience for me, and sometimes that's just what is called for.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.