The International Buddhist Temple in Richmond, B.C. is a breathtaking site that showcases the religion’s architecture, beliefs and food. You don’t have to go there necessarily to worship; the temple welcomes visitors from all backgrounds. A simple walk on the serene grounds does wonders for the soul.

The abbot, Venerable Guan Cheng, is a longtime family friend. I met him when I was just a kid. He wasn’t yet a monk but was already dedicated to fundraising and building the temple into an authentic and breathtaking location. His lectures are uploaded to YouTube in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.

In the ’80s, food at the temple was served in the dining hall at long communal tables. Today, there’s a bona fide restaurant on the grounds called Taste of Zen. It’s only open for lunch Wednesday to Sunday. Decorated with traditional paintings, there are also flat-screen TVs that loop videos of the temple’s events and features.

Taste of Zen, Richmond, B.C.

Most Buddhists are vegetarians because the First Precept of Buddhism is do not kill, which many interpret to include eating meat from animals that are killed for that purpose. Other followers go further and avoid eating strong-smelling plants such as garlic, shallots and leeks because they’re believed to excite the senses.

I think it’s easy to cook tasty dishes with meat, while making vegetarian or vegan dishes flavourful is much, much harder. Taste of Zen makes some of the best Chinese food around, meat or no meat. Much of the produce is grown right on the temple’s grounds.

Taste of Zen, Richmond, B.C.

This simple dish of steamed Chinese greens with ginger was delicious and I was really surprised to hear that there was absolutely no garlic in it.

There is a list of dishes on a sheet at the front of the restaurant but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all available to be ordered that day. Cost is by donation but it’s suggested to be $15 per person with each person ordering one dish. If you order more dishes than people, then it’s suggested you pay $15 per extra dish. It’s a bit confusing so best to consult with one of the very friendly volunteers.

Taste of Zen, Richmond, B.C.

I’m always amazed at what Buddhist cooking can do with gluten, bean curd and tofu. Their “frittata” tastes and looks like it’s made of eggs but it’s really layers of bean curd!

The vegetarian chow mein are the best fried noodles I’ve had in a long time in any restaurant. The noodles are super crispy and topped with an assortment of mushrooms like sliced king trumpets and wood ear, which make you forget about meat. Another layer of texture comes from crunchy broccoli and snow peas.

Taste of Zen, Richmond, B.C.

Taste of Zen even does great dessert. These fresh fried spring rolls are stuffed with banana and durian. I have not wavered on how I feel about durian, but at least here, the sweet banana cut the gym-sockiness of the latter fruit.

If you want to impress friends from out of town, if they’re meat eaters or not, or if you just want to try something deliciously plant-based, Taste of Zen is good for your body and your soul.

Taste of Zen, 9160 Steveston Highway, Richmond, B.C. (604) 274-2822 (main temple line). Open for lunch Wednesday to Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. Here are some FAQs if you’ve never visited a Buddhist temple before.

Taste of Zen on Urbanspoon

Child-friendly notes
Accessibility: Restaurant is located on ground floor. To visit the main temple building, there is elevator access.
Room for strollers: Wouldn’t bring inside but can leave out front.
High chairs and boosters: Yes.
Change table: No.