Photography by Yuvie Styles.
“We believe that food that’s prepared with devotion and offered to God has spiritual potency,” says Danny Thomas, the manager since 1995. “When we cook it, we don’t taste it until after we’ve offered it to God. We put it on a nice silver plate, put it in front of Kalachandji, ring a bell, say some prayers and ask him to accept it.”
The remnants are called prasadam, a Sanskrit word meaning mercy, and they’re what’s served at the restaurant.
Kalachandji’s Restaurant opened in 1982 as a way to spread vegetarianism throughout the Dallas community. It’s located at the Radha Kalachandji Temple at the corner of Gurley Avenue and Graham Avenue. The building, which used to be Mount Auburn Christian Church, was purchased in 1971.
It’s a multipurpose site. There’s the restaurant, which can accommodate about 100 people at a time inside and in the outdoor courtyard. There’s the worship space for devotees of the monotheistic bhakti tradition, the yoga of devotion; it’s also called Vaishnav, which means worshipers of Vishnu or Krishna. Then there is space for classes, where instructors teach vegetarian cooking, meditation, martial arts and tai chi. And the old church sanctuary has been converted into a 3,000-square-foot profitable space available for events.
The restaurant, now in its 40th year, has recently expanded to other outlets. There’s one in the university center at the University of Texas at Arlington and another at the food court in the student union building at the University of Texas at Dallas, where they’re making vegetarian pizzas.
Every day, Kalachandji’s Restaurant serves basmati rice and brown rice; and split-pea soup; a green vegetable such as mustard greens, bok choy, kale or spinach; a dry vegetable such as potatoes, green beans or cauliflower; a wet vegetable such as squash or pumpkin; and a bean curry with chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans or something similar. For dinner, paneer (cheese) and an international entree such as quiche, lasagna or eggplant parmesan are also available.
Devotees believe that the material world functions under the influence of three modes of nature: goodness, passion and ignorance. Foods can also be classified under these modes.
Fruits, vegetables and grains are foods of goodness; they promote health and “make the mind peaceful,” Thomas says. Foods in the mode of passion stimulate the mind and body and are characterized by excessive heat, spice or pungency. Foods in the mode of ignorance are toxic to the body and dull consciousness. Meat is seen as a food of ignorance, so it is avoided. Garlic and onions are considered to be in the modes of passion and ignorance, so they, too, are not used in any recipes at Kalachandji’s Restaurant. Instead, recipes call for asafoetida, a powder that has a strong smell.
“In fact, all the spices, they’re all also medicinal herbs, and they’re meant to make the food more digestible as well as more tasty,” Thomas says.
Although the restaurant is influenced by religion, it doesn’t really function as an outreach program.
“We proselytize just like everybody else, but we keep our preaching out of our restaurant,” he says. “We’re very strict about that because we serve the general public, and we recognize that most people already have their own religions, and they’re not coming here to get preached to.”