Great vegetarian at Chùa Giác Minh, Buddhist temple, East Palo Alto

#1

Chua Giac Minh is not an eatery- it is a buddhist temple. They serve banquet food as well as noodles after the service on Sunday morning. They also offer take out food for sale, and you don’t have to wait before the service ends (usually around ~12:30). This review is for the takeout food. The food is cooked by the nuns and temple volunteers. I want to highlight the takeout food items that offer outstanding quality and value.

Their tofu quality is spectacular. One can tell from the tofu dishes that its made very fresh. I didn’t ask if the tofu was made on site and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. The quality of the tofu itself was perhaps even better than the ones at Sogo Tofu in San Jose. The food was homey, and cooked with care. Seasoned simply and skillfully without the use of flavor enhancers.

Apologize in advance for the lack of details in certain dishes as I don’t speak Vietnamese and have trouble asking for details on the dishes.

^^^ Cơm chiên- broken fried rice. Today I finally was able to score a box of fried rice after missing out on previous visits. Its made with broken rice. A cross between sticky and regular rice. It contains wood ear, carrot, tofu pieces that is made to resemble meat, and small sauteed tofu cubes. Seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, scallions and garnished with cilantro. Its not oily and its one of the better renditions of fried rice around the Peninsula.

^^^ Fried tofu. Seasoned simply with lemongrass on top, its perfectly fried with a slightly crispy outer tofu layer and soft tofu inside. Homey, and not oily. Would be even better eaten hot.

^^^ I must admit I had no idea what this dish was beyond that its a type of salad. I couldn’t figure much out of the components either, maybe seaweed, carrot, and monk fruit?? It was seasoned boldly and great either eaten by itself or sprinkled on top of other dishes. I need to go back and ask them how they make this dish- its hard to figure out how they coaxed so much flavor out of this dish with vegetarian ingredients.

^^^ “Vegetarian chicken” two ways- sauteed (left) and very slightly sauteed (right). Its made with tofu skins with wood ears and cellophane noodles. Very simply flavored with salt with the lemongrass stalk as the ‘bone’ giving a touch of citrus-y fragrance to the tofu skins around.

^^^ “Vegetarian fish”. First sauteed then braised, the vegetarian fish was made with a layer of tofu skin on the outside, a piece of seaweed just underneath and layers of tofu skin on the inside. Very savory and slightly sweet, the tofu was garnished with tasty ginger on top.

^^^ Dumpling in banana leaf- Carrot, tofu and wood ear inside a rice flour jelly/ mochi that was infused with the fragrant aroma of the leaf. It made for a delightful appetizer.

^^^ Fried sesame ball with mung bean paste inside. Got the last one. Delightful dessert.

^^^ Fried spring roll with wood ear and vegetable inside. Well fried and seasoned.

^^^ Quite possibly the most outstanding dish of the meal to me and recommended by the volunteers, the tofu was likely first sauteed then braised in a slightly sweet and very savory broth. Chilis were added for visual but the dish was not spicy. Again, I don’t know how they got so much umami with vegetarian ingredients. Its a cold dish.

$28 for everything. Bought for 2 people. Enough for 4-5 except maybe the carb. Outstanding value. Feel free to make additional donation to the temple.

They also serve banquet meals inside and noodles outside. Didn’t try these this time. This Sunday, the temple was peaceful and there was no crowd. Don’t go to the temple when they celebrate the birthday of Buddha’s mother, and perhaps other important Buddhist dates. The crowds on those days are absolute madness.

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Feb. 19th HOdown @ Chùa Giác Minh, Buddhist temple, East Palo Alto
SF Bay Area vegetarian recs?
[Mountain View] Garden Fresh (Vegetarian Chinese)
#2

The banquet are 100 for a table 6 and 200 for a table of 10. Normally for a family in memory of a departed loved one. They can be order ahead of time. The tofu is purchase somewhere in San Jose and arrives early that morning.

The noodle soup served after the service changes every week.

if you want the best selection the go early since they run out of things.

763 Donohoe Street East Palo Alto

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#3

Do they prefer at all people who want to reserve a table not for the purpose of dining in memory of a departed loved one? Asking because its not a food establishment after all. How was the banquet if you have had it?

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#4

You can order a table for any reason. Yes I have had a few set meals. They do dishes that you would have at banquets but there is no meat. They have a full range of dishes. I had a vegetarian roast “pig” made with taro, tofu and flour. That was the best dish I had. If you have at least 6 you can order a table.

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#5

Thanks so much for posting about this! Very timely as we were due to feed a crowd of nieces & nephews today. We stopped by around 12:40 & the joint was jumpin. We ordered what felt like everything in sight, in large quantity, total $120 to feed 12 people w/ abundant leftovers.

In addition to the items in your pictures, we got:

  • a wonderful tomato-based soup with soft clumps of tofu & lots of other goodies in it. Agreed the tofu is excellent.
  • some long cylindrical leaf-wrapped things that turned out to be a very dense soy (similar to the faux drumstick) heavily laced with fresh dill
  • fried, slightly sweet buns with sesame seeds
  • delicious salad of mango, cabbage, shallots, other good things. They were very accommodating about peanut allergy, we got one w/ peanuts & one w/o.
  • veggie tempura
    I think there was more, but I can’t remember now. Sorry for the vague descriptions; what I don’t know about Vietnamese food could fill libraries, plus the kids were hungry & we hadn’t seen them in a while, so there was a lot to distract. Anyway, big hit w/ the vegetarian girls, & w/ us. We will be back!
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(Aisa Basia) #6

indigirl et al,
I am a volunteer at Giac Minh temple and I’ll try my very best to decipher the dish/item you mentioned to those who are interested. As this is a Vietnamese Buddhist temple, we prepare the food and adhere to the strict vegan guidelines (no eggs, no animal based ingredients) or just plant based only diet.

  1. Tomato based soup: perhaps it’s our popular Vietnamese Hue inspired noodle soup (pronounce “boon Hway”) .
  2. The long cylindrical leaf wrapped things is our vegan version of Vietnamese Chả lụa or giò lụa or cold cut equivalent. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chả_lụa. It’s called " Chả chay" and “chay”, pronunce as jhay stand for vegan in Vietnamese. The temple made it into 2 different version (plain or dill which is more popular with Northern Vietnamese). The temple Chả chay is made from fresh vegan tofu skin, shaped, then wrapped with banana leaf then steam. Ask for Chả chay (jah jhay) if you wanted to attempt your Vietnamese with the nuns the next time you drop in. That would definitely give them a big smile.
  3. Fried, slightly sweet buns with sesame seeds aka bánh cam (bahn cam) or Bánh rán (northern version). The outer shell is made with glutinous flour then rolled into sesame seeds and fry. The filling is made of sweetend mashed mung beans.
  4. Salad of the day, depending on season’s fruits/produces.
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(Aisa Basia) #7

Hi,
I’m one of the volunteer at the temple so I have an idea of the ingredients of the dish that piqued your interest. This is the dish from third pix, from top down is called mắm thái chay (mahm thai jhay - I’m trying my best to phonetically pronounce it so you can have an easier time asking for it the next time you would like to purchase it as Vietnamese is not easy to learn).

History: Mắm is always referred to fermented fish sauces or fermented food like kim chee. Don’t worry, our vegan food is NOT prepared as normal food so nothing fermented in this recipe but to entice people to eat more vegan food, sometimes we have to give the food a name or prepare with similar ingredients as the normal food (less protein - to avoid killing) so people can have an idea of the familiar taste/or expected ingredients. You can’t call everything tofu, tofu and tofu.

Now, the vegan mắm thái chay version at the temple is typically made from Julienne sun dries daikon, carrots, cucumber, maybe tofu strips, soy beans paste and the secret ingredients: toasted rice powder. For both the vegan or protein mắm thái, it won’t be mắm thái without the toasted powder. You can find it at most Vietnamese/Asian grocer as the Thai folks also use this in their cuisine. Here’s how it looks like: https://www.google.com/search?q=toasted+rice+powder&biw=1366&bih=643&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwisk83Sro_LAhVN3mMKHSH6DZUQsAQIIw

Hoped this helps!

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#8

Wow, thanks for all the info! Really appreciate your sharing :relaxed:

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#9

Thank you very much for sharing the details of the dishes! This is super helpful.

I must also say that the nuns and the volunteers are all so super friendly that I want to thank you and everyone for being so welcoming, especially in dealing with the occasional awkward ‘gringos’ like us.

Question- Some weeks I see huge crowds at the temple, like the birthday of the buddha’s mother. Is there a schedule the temple follows that we can use to avoid the crowds?

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#10

More goodness from the temple:

Curry soup with carrot, potatoes, tofu skins, woodear and coconut milk. This is new to me. Saw the nuns bring it out to a back table so it wasn’t on the for sale table. But I asked for one anyway. Still hot when I got it. Very homey and laid back tasting curry, the opposite to bold, in your face curry found in restaurants. Between the two of us we drank almost the entire tall tub.

Next one is also new to me, its fairly similar to mắm thái chay, and it has vermicelli , carrot, tofu and some other things in it. One is supposed to sprinkle this on top of the noodles to eat.

I also saw they have tofu pudding with what looks like syrup on the side. Also not at the for sale table. I am wondering what other goodies they have in the back…!

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#11

The tofu pudding is not on table but if you ask for it they will get it from the refrigerator. There is a ginger syrup that comes with it. Also if go to the temple on non holidays it is not crowded. The curry soup is ones I like best. During the summer months there is other cold treat available.

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#12

Tried a couple more things:

The fermented rice ball and the yogurt. The yogurt tastes like a home made, less sweet, and more refined version of Yakult. Its good.

Lots of yogurts in the fridge, and tuna? Huh?

The noodle

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(Nga Curotto) #13

I also volunteer at Giac Minh Pagoda. The monks there are the sweetest people you ever met. The yogurt is definitely “home made” as they are made by the monks. The food that we serve on Sundays are freshly made. the If you want to avoid the crowd, you can also call in ahead to order any vegetarian dishes that are so beautifully pictured and described here. The monks do not speak fluent English. The best days to call in to order are Saturdays and Sundays. Very often, there are English speaking volunteers who can help you.

You took a pic of the frig. The box was used as a container to hold a number of yogurt cups that someone ordered. I promise you there is absolutely no “tuna” in that box. :slight_smile:

Thank you for your interest in our temple.

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#14

You are right. There is a yogurt cup lid peeking out of the tuna box!

I have not found the crowds to be big in most times I went, except one time when the temple was celebrating I think Buddha’s mom’s birthday and the place was packed. Is there a Buddhist or temple calendar somewhere? Thanks.

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#15

Some new-to-me items:

A type of tofu skin, slightly spicy, highly savory. Good to eat with rice.

Mango salad, with imitation meat, veggies, and a what seems like chili sauce- fish sauce combo.

If you like crowds, next week is Chinese New Year so the temple will be packed. If you don’t like crowds, next week’s not the week to visit.

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(Nga Tang) #16

Does someone know if there will be special food, in addition to their usual delicious offerings, available for sales this Sunday during CNY?

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#17

Trying giving them a call on Saturday. The food prep is underway the day before, I believe.

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#18

They will be food prep starts tomorrow. There will be a lot of New Year foods for sale. I will be there on Saturday to see what is available but there should be some on Sunday too. Less but there should be a good selection. They should have some sweets too.

They normally serve a new year soup which is really good.

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#19

Oh I am so there. What’s in the new year soup?

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#20

Boo Way (my bad Vietnamese) a meatless beef stew soup.

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