Know Before You Go
A strict Buddhist diet stipulates that no animal should have to die for your taste buds to feel alive. Even stricter adherents eschew onions and garlic, as well. If it all sounds repressive, you haven’t eaten at the Chùa Giác Minh Buddhist temple in East Palo Alto.
The kitchen serves food to the public only after services on Sunday, around midday—a reminder not only to leave your loud friends at home, but also to wear clean socks (no shoes in the temple). When services let out, a mixed crowd of devout Buddhists and Bay Area foodies will meander upstairs to the kitchen.
The vegetarian menu changes weekly, but is consistent in its ability to feature tantalizing Vietnamese spreads without the nation’s seemingly mandatory accoutrements. Sans fish sauce, beef, garlic, or onions, the nun- and volunteer-run kitchen assembles classics such as fried tofu, bánh bôt loc, and bún bò Hue.
The eatery excels in its clever employment of vegetarian ingredients in recreating meat dishes. A mock-fish casts soy-based stuffing in nori to mimic skin. Lemongrass serves as the “bone” in a vegetarian “chicken” wing, infusing the surprisingly meat-like mixture of wood ear mushroom and cellophane noodles with notes of citrusy mint.
You won’t leave in a meat-coma, but that’s no excuse not to work off your meal by moseying through the temple’s grounds on your way out. Take a stroll and you’ll notice much of the ingredients you just ate were, in fact, grown on-site. When’s the last time you ate a burger on a cow farm?