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There’s no place that combines reverence and community in the sacred and secular to encompass worship quite like the Ganesha Temple in Queens, New York. It’s a Hindu temple—with a restaurant.
The cultural touchstone for the Hindu community in New York has a full-service, A+ Indian restaurant tucked away through a side entrance, down a few staircases and hallways, and into the basement. The Temple Canteen is not hidden on purpose, according to Uma Mysorekar, the president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America. It was just kind of an afterthought that took on a life of its own.
When the temple was built in 1977, it was one of the first of its kind outside India. It quickly became an important site for both the local Hindu community in Queens and the religion’s devout throughout the United States. As pilgrimages increased from both national and international visitors to attend worship services and cultural workshops, they needed a place to eat, so the temple opened a cafeteria in its basement serving some of the most authentic South Indian cuisine around as a taste of home. Soon, word of the incredible food spread, and now the Temple Canteen is an institution in its own right.
Mysorekar says not all visitors are Hindu and the restaurant is open to the public. Indeed, as accolades from The New York Times, New York Magazine and Anthony Bourdain have attested, the Temple Canteen is the spot in Queens for some of the world’s very best vada, idli, sambar and dosas, still made by a team of 10 South Indian chefs and served affordably every day. For Mysorekar, going out to eat should be a joy, and as you can’t make a prayer to the Hindu gods without an offering of food, both the religious and those who praise the culinary arts have a home at the Temple Canteen.
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