Menú del Dia Hare Krishna Style at Govindas

Anyone living in Chile understands the menú del dia concept: Valparaíso's Govindas Hare Krishna restaurant has revolutionized this lunchtime standard, serving healthy, affordable, Hindu-inspired food.

Photo by Fabiana Meacham
Photo by Fabiana Meacham

A Hindu sect with enormous popularity worldwide, Hare Krishnas are renowned for serving inexpensive (or in some cases, free) food to anyone who's hungry. Although Hare Krishna cuisine varies from country to country, anyone familiar with Indian food will recognize the spices and subtle flavor combinations (including yogurt dressings, curries and fruit-based chutney sauces) at Govindas. The cooks here often combine elements of Indian cuisine with Chilean-style casseroles, pastas and soups.

Govindas offers three distinct daily menus to satisfy any taste and budget: the menú (CP$1,500/US$2,50), the menú extra (CP$1,900/US$3.00) and the tali (CP$2,500/US$4.00).

Photo by Fabiana Meacham
Photo by Fabiana Meacham

Menú and menú extra come with a basket of homemade whole grain bread and two dipping sauces: an egg-free, carrot and potato mayonnaise as well as Chile's traditional spicy pebre (made with tomatoes, onions and hot peppers).

A main dish and a dessert follow the bread. Tali includes a variety of Hare Krishna delicacies in smaller portions served on a compartmentalized metal tray. All three menus also include the daily fresh-squeezed juice or chai tea.

The last time I ate at Govindas the menú option included coconut-seasoned brown rice, an assortment of fresh vegetables and spinach lasagna; the menú extra consisted of a hearty bean, noodle and vegetable soup for the main course; and the tali a spinach salad with yogurt dressing, homemade chapati flatbread, curried potatoes with vegetables and a lightly sweetened, toasted wheat flour concoction for dessert.

But it's not just the eclectic variety of food that makes lunch at Govindas a unique dining experience; first, you must find the place. Although located at the start of Subida Ecuador, one of downtown Valparaíso's busier intersections, a small hand-painted wooden plaque over the doorway offers the only suggestion of a restaurant upstairs (that and the occasional presence of robed Hare Krishna practitioners selling fresh bread out front).

Photo by Fabiana Meacham
Photo by Fabiana Meacham

A steep flight of creaky wooden stairs takes you to the second floor where the scents of turmeric, cumin and coriander permeate the air. Once inside the actual restaurant, one must choose from two distinct dining areas:
a no-frills row of tables for those in a hurry, or the tranquil, light-flooded back room, where diners remove their shoes before entering and eat in communal tables while seated on floor cushions. This room also functions as a temple and houses a shrine to Krishna, who receives daily offerings of the very same food served in the restaurant.

Rani Kunja Dovi Dasi, manager of both the restaurant and temple, was first drawn to Hare Krishna by the food and started working at Govindas as a waitress. She says the secret to their cuisine lies in the Hare Krishna concept of food as a form of spiritual purification.

She now hopes the restaurant will teach people that "vegetarianism is completely possible, nutritious and won't threaten anyone's health."

In addition to the daily set menus, the restaurant now offers cooking classes once a month, which aim to teach various methods of seasoning vegetarian dishes to enhance the subtle flavors of the food. Yoga and astrology classes are also held in the same space, though not affiliated with the restaurant.

Despite Govindas's health-conscious, animal-free, "my body is my temple" profile, staunch carnivores like myself will finish their meals feeling thoroughly satiated. With all the affordable options and hearty portions, there's no excuse for leaving this restaurant physically (or spiritually) unfulfilled.

Govindas
Subida Ecuador, 2
(second floor, just past Plaza Ecuador)
Valparaíso
Mon-Fri, 1pm-4pm

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