By Jen Lahey
On a recent visit to Govinda’s, a vegetarian resto located in Sandy Hill, my dining companion and I arrived to find the sparsely decorated space empty, save for the chef and one other worker. But we had arrived just as they opened for the night, and by the time we left, an hour or so later, the cafeteria-style tables were packed with what looked like students from nearby Ottawa University, presumably there to take advantage of the all-you-can-eat buffet, which is priced at a delightful five bucks for students (seven bucks for everyone else).
Govinda’s is run on a non-profit basis by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), commonly known as Hare Krishnas. ISKCON are also the folks who run the Hare Krishna Food for Life program, which to date has served more than 100 million free vegetarian/vegan meals in more than 60 countries – the Krishnas’ ‘kitchen religion’ moniker is well-earned. At Govinda’s, the dining area was partitioned off from what looked like a worship area, which was dark the night we visited.
The food selection is by no means vast at Govinda’s, but for the meager amount of cash you’re shelling out you can’t really go wrong. That night on the self-serve buffet there was a fresh green salad with homemade dressing, a cold pasta salad, a lentil curry, potatoes, a hot soup, rice, and a simple cake for dessert. I’m told this is a fairly typical sampling of what they serve, though the menu and ingredients vary from day to day. Everything on offer is vegan – score one for the herbivores.
The food was lightly spiced, as the chef (who warmly welcomed us and answered all our questions) had said it would be, and it was comforting and delicious. The flavours were not complex: this is simple, tasty, fill-your-belly food, not haute cuisine. If your grandma were a Hare Krishna vegetarian, this is the food she’d make for you.
It’s satisfying, ‘of the earth’ sort of fare, and you’re encouraged to eat your fill: aside from wanting their customers to leave full and happy, Govinda’s tries to keep costs and environmental impact down by not wasting food. Being the environmentally-minded veggie kids that we are, we helped by going back for seconds.
Those wanting to give Govinda’s a try will want to take note of the establishment’s limited hours: they’re only open Monday to Friday from 5 to 8 p.m., so be sure to plan ahead. In fact, calling ahead just to ensure they’re open is probably a good move. But overall, for the cash-strapped or simply the frugally-minded veg food lover Govinda’s is a gem, and a trip down to the Sandy Hill ‘hood to partake of their offerings will leave you sans regrets.
212 Somerset St. East (one block east of King Edward & University of Ottawa)
Open Monday to Friday, 5-8 p.m.