Once again, I discovered the fun of International dining in Houston. No plane ticket needed! I can hop in my car, drive a few minutes and feel like I've taken a trip around the world.
And where do you eat?
This ornate building doesn't look like Texas. It holds the shop/grocery/cafeteria on the grounds of Houston's BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. or Hindu Temple. The dining part of the adventure came after a pretty an impressive and chilling tour of the temple.
Worst Day to Visit
On Friday, the temps were in the 30's with a chilling breeze and drab skies. The fountains weren't flowing, the larger trees were bare and scaffolding covered much of the exterior, which at least was a clue that work was being done to whiten up the 10 year old stone that showed signs of mold. Nevertheless, it was a great visit.
This was the only day that my friend Kristi and I could go and neither of us let the weather stop us. We met in the parking lot, bundled up and kept our fingers crossed for no rain. We wanted to tour the temple before lunch skies were gray and we'd heard they close to visitors when the marble gets wet and slippery.
Walking to the Temple
The wind (as seen in flag) moved us briskly towards the temple. We paused to take in this intricately carved set of arches. How odd to see the apartment complex on the other side of the golden gates. This whole complex of beautiful buildings, sits so oddly in the middle of a Stafford neighborhood, right outside of Houston.
Marble and Limestone
The entire structure is covered in intricately carved designs. Italian marble and limestone from Turkey were shipped to India, where craftsmen created 33,000 individual pieces before shipping to Houston where they were pieced together using no iron or steel. After viewing this amazing carved wall of images, Kristi and I turned right towards the women's area, for shoe storage. Cameras and shoes needed to be put away before climbing the marble stairs to the temple.
Inside the Mandir
This is what we discovered after climbing the steps. (postcards are available. I didn't sneak photos) The cold air blowing through the space made it seem like we were walking through a maze of pillars and domes carved in ice. Luckily we were quietly welcomed by Mr. Patel, a Mandir volunteer, since really didn't know where we were allowed to walk. He told us that 10 years ago when this temple was built, it was the very first traditional Mandir built in the North America. He shared some history and made us feel comfortable enough to ask some sort of silly questions. Then he guided us to sit in the center of the carpeted area (in the women's area) so we could experience a very brief ritual that would be happening shortly.
Before long the carpet was scattered with others, some sitting and some kneeling down, doing a variety of bowing gestures. A few men did a yoga-like move that looked rather like a push up. A few of the women began to gather near Kristi and me. I think they sensed our confusion because I saw a few give us welcoming smiles. In the next few minutes there was a swirl of peaceful activity. Bells were rung and the gates before us opened to reveal colorful carved statues. There were men in saffron robes and lighted sticks of some kind. A metal plate was carried around with a flaming center. We watched while men first, donated to the plate then waved their hands over the flame then towards their faces. Having grown up in a Catholic church it seemed a bit like the offering and communion combined and there are rules about who takes communion... But the woman carrying the flaming plate in our area seemed happy to show us how to move our hands over the flame in sort of a blessing. Now, I can't even remember if I took my gloves off, but I do remember that glorious moment of warmth. I'm not sure the full meaning of our bit of participation...but how could there be anything wrong with a shared moment of warmth!
Warming with Food!
An icy drizzle had picked up by the time we descended from the temple. By now our feet were numb, but not enough to keep from feeling our socks soaking up the wet puddles on the marble. When we reached our shoes, I whipped off my socks before putting on my shoes. We rushed through the drizzle toward the warm food shop...with my wet socks in my pocket. Here is Kristi, with a Styrofoam plate of steaming curry dishes. We were the first diners to take a seat in the eating corner of the store.
This vegetarian display of curry dishes and rice does not look appetizing in the photo. But it was amazingly good and cheap. ($7.99) We had to be patient, though. The aisles of the little store had a number of shoppers, who seemed to be regulars buying packages of sweets, vegetables, even soaps and candies. Our cashier was doing double duty and rushed over to get the small buffet ready between checking out customers. Then Mr. Patel, our kind guide from the Mandir entered in his wool cap and big smile. He made sure we got some "Indian donuts!" and "sweet cake" that tasted like sweet cornbread with cilantro.
Kristi was quite intrigued by the sweets that were available in the shop. She busily read labels and seemed excited about curious ingredients. Her enthusiasm made me think I needed to buy a whole box of Gulkand Sandwich. I'm not sure why I need a large container of these sandwich shaped treats. I guess I was a little intrigued by the peanut butter and jelly appearance...or is that salami and cheese? Anyway, I'm having one right now with my coffee as I write. They are filled with cashews, almond, locust bean gum, ricotta cheese, saffron and Gulkand...which has something to do with rose petals. They taste like European marzipan candies...which I'm afraid I don't care for. Oh well. Everything else was good about the dining adventure. I plan to return on a warm, spring day!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.