In a city that elevates certain chefs to god-like status and treats their restaurants as shrines for gastronomic worship, how about a more humbling dining experience in an actual house of worship? Several churches, places of worship and temples throughout New York are preparing and serving meals for anybody that drops by that are always delicious, unique, and either inexpensive or free.
The following are not places where you will be taking advantage of a charitable soup kitchen; nor are they places where you would expect to be preached at in exchange for the food. Rather, these are places that happily welcome anybody to share a meal in the spirit of creating community.
Sikh Cultural Society – Worldwide, every Sikh temple, or gurdwara, runs a communal dining hall providing free, vegetarian meals to all visitors, Sikh and non-Sikh alike. The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India demonstrates this most famously, and most spectacularly, marshalling an army of volunteers to serve upwards of 80,000 meals a day. The Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill, Queens may operate on a far more modest scale, but is no different in its approach, providing conversation and tasty home-style Indian cooking with hospitality and camaraderie.
Norwegian Seamen’s Church – Once a month, this Manhattan church provides an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of Nordic treats. With New York’s winters increasingly resembling an Arctic winter, tables overflowing with meatballs, potatoes, and smoked, pickled, and baked fish are especially welcoming. For all of New York’s culinary diversity, there is a definite dearth of Scandinavian restaurants, so why not try this cuisine with a group of friendly Norwegian expats?
Hindu Temple Society – On a quiet, residential street of aluminum-sided, Archie Bunkeresque homes in Flushing, Queens, incongruously sits one of the continent’s largest Hindu temples. In the main sanctuary dedicated to Lord Ganesh, worshippers cleanse and attend to the ornately carved deities. Meanwhile, in the temple’s unassuming basement, a crowded canteen serves some of the city’s most satisfying and inexpensive South Indian fare. Giant spicy dosas spilling over the paper plates, delicious deep-fried samosas, and deceptively flavorful lentil soups serve to remind even the most hardened carnivore that a meat free meal can be immensely enjoyable.
Hare Krishna Temple – Another basement, another filling vegetarian feast. Travelers have long known that Hare Krishna temples provide both budget-friendly and health-friendly meals. This sometimes vegan and always vegetarian downtown Brooklyn outpost features an impressive buffet and the neighborhood’s best lunch deal.