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By Joanna O’Leary
Many who gravitate to Houston’s ISKON temple complex on 34th Street are hungry for spiritual satisfaction. But now, those visiting Houston’s headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness can also satiate more mundane cravings at ISKON’s on-site buffet restaurant, Govinda’s. So named for one of the monikers of the Hindu god Vishnu, Govinda’s serves what I like to think of as soul food that is just as comforting but far more invigorating than the soul food many Houstonians are accustomed to.
Housed adjacent to the temple, with its impressive blue-and-ivory spires, Govinda’s is a gleaming, open cafeteria-style space decorated with religious motifs and murals painted by members. On any given afternoon or evening, a steady trickle of couples, families, curious neighbors, and even animal-rights enthusiasts can be seen eating together. By the way, in keeping with cultural and religious traditions, Govinda’s is all-vegetarian and almost 100 percent vegan, so don’t even bother asking “Where’s the beef?” (FYI, the cow is also considered a sacred beast.) Placards above the buffet describe the various health benefits of spices and ingredients (such as ginger, turmeric, and fenugreek) that are used in the entrées, so you’ll know exactly how you’re helping your body at this nourishing spread.
The all-you-can-eat lunch ($10.95) and dinner ($12.95) are offered daily with over 300(!) rotating Eastern and Western options that might include palak paneer, curry rice, rigatoni, aloo gobi, macaroni and cheese malai kofta, dal makhani, and barbeque tofu, plus an omnipresent fresh salad bar. Samosas and puri (a type of Indian bread—think naan, but deep-fried and more addictive, if that’s even possible) are complimentary. Patrons should also elect to try traditional beverages such as rich mango lassis and the refreshing rose water. For dessert, Govinda’s offers kheer (a silky, sweet white pudding flavored with cardamom) and vegan halwa, which are bars of spiced nut custard.
For the record, I almost never enter a restaurant and think, “Thank God it’s a buffet!” Unlimited quantities of food often correlates with limited quality, as rapid mass-production can easily lead to sloppy cookery. Not so at Govinda’s. In fact, the delicious-looking and -tasting options would be the worst nightmare for an indecisive diner like myself. Thrilled at the opportunity to try everything (all in the spirit of research, of course), I piled my plate with a colorful cornucopia of plant-based dishes. In addition to presenting the opportunity to sample so many different things, a good buffet allows you to easily establish a hierarchy of favorites on your first trip, then modify portions during your second, third, and (go for it) fourth helpings. Hey, it’s healthful.
Pair your meal with a pre- or post-prandial stroll through the relaxing environs, and if the kiddos are in tow, enjoy the jungle-gym. There are plans at some point in the future for developing a garden to serve as a source of ingredients for the restaurant, and as a means for teaching children about sustainable agriculture.
And for those who like to plan ahead, Govinda’s is already heavily promoting their Labor Day “Kirtan Fest 2017” celebrations, and for good reason. Elaborate plans are in the works to honor the Vaishnava holidays with art displays, concerts, guest lectures, sermons, and, needless to say, good food.
Joanna O’Leary is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine and a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.