What really makes Hare Krishna cooking special is the state of mind of the movement’s cooks, writes Brent Meersman.
I first ate at the Hare Krishna Centre in Rondebosch when I was a schoolboy. A close friend had decided to become a devotee, much to the consternation of our Calvinist school authorities, who saw it as some sort of satanic cult. After all, the gentle philosophy he had embraced was a threat to a state that required violence and military service from its privileged citizens in order to maintain itself.
I was and remain deeply sceptical of all religious movements — and as attractive as my friend’s newfound spirituality seemed, it was, to be honest, the delicious food that made the greatest impression on me.
I had never tasted Indian-style vegan food. There was such variety. It was aromatic, light and elevating. Dried split peas had become something altogether more esculent; boring old lentils were transformed into delectable dhal; and there were delicious meatballs made without any meat.
At Govinda’s, tucked away next to the Hare Krishna Centre opposite Rondebosch railway station, they have been serving “karma-free delights since 1972”. Open to the public, it is a pleasant, calming space with polished wooden tables and floors. The walls are decorated with characteristic, brightly coloured illustrations of Krishna. There is some outside seating as well.
Non-violence starts in the kitchen. Cook Gaura Shakti Das, who has 14 years’ experience in Hare Krishna cuisine, explains: “What really makes Hare Krishna cooking special is not only the ingredients and spices, but also the principles of purity behind it … That means that the cook has to follow certain principles of cleanliness and purity of consciousness before he is allowed to cook.
The food is mild and straightforward. It is a little cool, but that is better than it drying out or deteriorating nutritionally while waiting in the bain-marie.
Prices are low. You can have a full meal consisting of rice, dhal, koftas and two vegetable dishes for just R40. Rotis can be added at R3 each.
For dessert there are scrumptious carob brownies and rich fudge made from chickpea flour.
There are no credit card facilities, so bring cash. Instead of, or in addition to leaving a tip, you might make a donation to the Hare Krishna Food for Life Organisation.
Govinda’s, 17 St Andrews Road, Rondebosch, Cape Town. Tel: 021 685 8384. Open Thursday to Sunday, noon to 6pm
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