The canteen at the Ganesh Temple
To celebrate Diwali, I made a trip with some friends on Sunday morning to the Ganesh Temple in Flushing, New York. I so wish I had heard about this temple earlier. It's a pity that my father missed out on the one visit he would have most enjoyed on his recent trip to New York. He would have appreciated the worship and devoured the food!
When my friend, Vikram, mentioned that we should eat lunch there after the morning pooja, I was a bit surprised. I've never heard of temples having canteens so I really did not know what to expect. Vikram was raving about the idli, dosas, vadas and the "deadly" onion rava dosa. The only food experience I have had at a temple is gobbling ladoos and bananas at the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, the city of my birth and the place I return to every year to visit my grandmother.
After a quick darshan, we followed the clearly-marked signs to the canteen in an adjoining building where they have a big hall that is rented out for special events like weddings. The thought of steaming idli-vada-dosa had our mouths watering all the way to the basement of the building which housed the canteen. The Ramayana was playing on a large Sony plasma TV. 20 odd tables were scattered unevenly across the hall. The place was packed with families enjoying a hearty Sunday meal. You ordered from a fast food like counter through which you could see the food being prepared. One gentleman took your order and rung you up while the other was getting just-made-food from the open kitchen and calling out your token number. The self-service was understandably a bit slow.
But as you waited in queue to reach the counter, you were tempted by the $1 prasad packets of traditional Brahmin "mixture" (like the Gujju chivda which I consider to be Indian Trail Mix), murukku and laddoos. I grabbed a small mixture packet and a laddoo (sweet fat dumplings!) of course. I remembered how a family friend would insist on calling me Laddoo instead of Lulu when I was a plump teenager and how that use to irritate me so much and I used to keep saying "Please, uncle, stop it!" It brought back those days of carefree fun and frolic (versus the hectic lifestyle today and the tension of preparing PowerPoint decks!!)
Vikram and I debated on all the terrific choices including bisibela, mysore dosa, sada dosa, dahi vada to name a few but we both chose the Special Lunch thali. We wanted a bit of many things. Of course.
My thali came with a huge mound of white rice, rasam, sambhar, cabbage karamndhu and coconut dry vegetable curry, aviyal (mixed vegetables in a yogurt sauce), dahi, applam, payasam and a lemon pickle with a sharp bite. The rasam was by far the tastiest item. It was not only steaming hot but tongue-burning spicy just the way it is meant to be. I also loved the aviyal and the cabbage dishes. The payasam was waaaaaaaaaaay too sweet for my liking but would be loved by those who drink and tea with 2-3 tablespoons of sugar! The only let down was the dahi vada which Vikram and I decided to share. The vada did not melt in my mouth like it was supposed to and the yogurt was a bit off-perfect flavour. I could just hear my mom's age-old warning of not ordering yogurt-based dishes at Indian restaurants because they can never get the sourness and freshness right.
What a fabulous pre-Diwali lunch that was. I wish I had more time this week to cook something special at home for Diwali. In the absence of that, I will be cherishing, all week long, my lovely lunch at the Ganesh Temple canteen.
Happy Diwali to those of you celebrating.
Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year as well!