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Oct 202011
 




By Naveen

Ladies, (not-so)Gentlemen and fans of Bollywood / Kollywood / Tollywood,

After MTV’s Celebrity Death Match and Animal Planet’s Animal Face-Off, we have SearchIndia’s Chicago Hindu Temple Cafeteria Wars!

Y’all would have seen or read about India vs. Pakistan, Federer vs. Nadal, Kamal vs. Rajini, Bush vs Gore, Sri Lanka vs LTTE, Aamir vs. Shah Rukh, Lion vs. Tiger, Pandavas vs. Kauravas but it’s unlikely you’re even aware about the great Rama vs. Balaji clash.

Yes! The two Hindu gods are waging holy war!

Cafeteria is the war zone.

Food is the weapon.

And not-so-humble I am the judge.

Here’s a background for those who have no clue what this post is about.

A few weeks ago I visited the SVS [Balaji] Temple in Aurora and feasted on the out of this world food served in their cafeteria. Here is the account of my Balaji experience.

Chicago Balaji Temple Cafteria Review - SearchIndia.comAurora Balaji Temple

Last week, I gorged on the delectable offerings of the cafeteria in the Lemont Rama temple aka The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago. You may read my Lemont Rama Temple review here.

With two solid cafeterias near me, I have to do what every idle man does… compare the two and put one above the other for no apparent reason except the sadistic pleasure of putting one down. ;-)

Without further ado here is the comparison…

Round 1: The Ambiance and the Crowd

While both Lemont and Aurora cafeterias sport a modest ambiance with only basic facilities for diners, the Aurora cafeteria is much larger – twice as big as Lemont’s. This makes sense because the crowd at Aurora is significantly larger than at Lemont.

If the day of the week is Saturday or Sunday, Balaji turns into Rajinikanth and all the South Indian Mamis dress up in Sarees, kids in Kurta Pyjama or Pattu Pavadai and drive down to Aurora to get Rajinikanth’s Balaji’s Divya Darisanam and importantly the “Prasadham” for lunch/dinner.

It’s like a first day first show of a new Rajinikanth movie. No, we’re not kidding. You’ve got to watch it to believe it.

While Lemont also receives a strong inflow of visitors during the weekends, the crowd is like that of a Kamal Haasan movie – sizable but not comparable to a Rajini film. At Lemont, there are more visitors for the programs organized in the temple auditorium than to the temple or its cafeteria.

Another interesting difference is that Aurora’s cafeteria is located right at the entrance of the temple. Visitors have to go via the cafeteria if they wish to have a darshan of Balaji or other Gods. Lemont Cafeteria is located well inside the temple. Those visiting only the Siva Temple or the Rama temple or the Auditorium do not have to pass via the cafeteria or even go anywhere near it. That way the cafeteria is exclusive to those who really want to eat.

Result: Rama Wins!

I like Aurora cafeteria’s size and Lemont cafeteria’s location within the temple. On the crowd factor, a large crowd can be eventful but a smaller crowd gives me more space, easy seating and better service. Rama manages to deliver an extra punch on Balaji in Round 1.

Lemont Rama Temple Cafeteria Review - SearchIndia.comLemont Rama Temple

Round 2: Menu & Cost

The two Chicago Hindu temple cafeteria’s menus and prices are very similar.

Lemont offers a choice of Plain Dosa and Masala Dosa while Aurora offers Dosa with Masala always served on the side. Those who don’t want Masala have no choice except to ask for no Masala, which can be a pain considering the large crowd. Lemon Rice is another item on Lemont’s menu that’s missing in Aurora.

But, Aurora fights back with Bholi and Indian Coffee, both not offered by Lemont.

Added to that, Aurora’s menu caters to the majority of its clientele – South Indians.

Lemont on the other hand has a significant North Indian following as the temple itself is a fusion of South and North styles. But their cafeteria serves nothing but the raised middle finger to North Indians. A shame!

Result: Balaji punches Rama in the gut and takes Round 2. Lemont’s menu should be revised to include a few items that North Indians like.

Round 3: Ordering, Service & Billing

Both cafeterias are self service.

From the time one enters the cafeteria it can take anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes to have the first bite at Aurora during peak lunch /dinner hours. There’s a line to buy tokens, then there’s a line to collect food and if you are that sinner who ordered  Dosa then you have to take a token and wait for your number to show up. If you show up even a minute late then you will have to wait as Dosas take longer than the other items.

The entire process of ordering – billing – collecting food is smooth at Lemont even during peak hours – just one small line. From the time you enter the cafeteria, you could be having your first bite even within 5 minutes. Even in Lemont you have to give your name in case you are ordering Dosas but the wait time was less than 5 minutes. Sweet!

Billing is another area where Lemont stood out. At Aurora, the person at the billing has outright refused to give receipts on multiple occasions. One another instance the swines double billed me and I had to contact them to get that reversed. No such issues at Lemont.

At Lemont, water cups, spoons, paper towels and water cans are abundantly available for patrons. In Aurora, at the time of billing one has to ask for the exact number of water cups and spoons needed. You may even be asked to share cups or spoons by the idiot  behind the counter. Also, there are no water jugs at Aurora – only water fountains.

Result: Rama comes right back into the game by landing tight slaps on both cheeks of Balaji

Round 4: Hygiene & Environmental Consciousness

Both Lemont and Aurora do quite ok on hygiene but here are a few observations.

Lemont keeps an open sugar bowl instead of sugar sachets. There are more easily accessible rest rooms in the Lemont temple than at Aurora and also due to the crowd the rest rooms at Aurora are more extensively used. But kudos to the staff who manage to keep it in decent shape.

The one big factor where Aurora gets some extra points is their attempt to implement the “Go Green” initiative. Recently they completely eliminated Styrofoam and moved to paper cups and plates. Lemont is still on Styrofoam.

Result: Balaji recovers from Rama’s brutal assault in the previous round

Round 5: The Food

Lemont Rama Vs Aurora Balaji Temple Canteen Food

Coming to the core of the cafeteria.. the food itself. As you may have read in my reviews both cafeterias can be proud of the food they serve.

South Indians in the Chicago region will take either of these cafeterias any day over the garbage served at many of the so-called “Fine Dining” Indian restaurants in the same area.

Still, there are some differences between the two temple cafeterias that did not miss an astute observer like yours truly.

Despite all the good food at Lemont, two factors clearly tilt the scales in favor of Aurora:

1. Lemont’s Curd rice and Tamarind rice were nowhere in the same heavenly class as Aurora’s. Lemont’s Tamarind rice was actually  atrocious.

2. Overall food temperature at Lemont ranged from cold to lukewarm for most items, which was disappointing. It was like Rama was giving the cold shoulder to his ardent devotees. The chances of getting cold food at Aurora is very low.

Result: Balaji delivers a powerful upper-cut and punch to Rama’s face

Verdict

The dust settles in the battle field.

Rama and Balaji waged a tough battle and now they meekly await my verdict.

And I declare Aurora Balaji Temple Cafeteria the CLEAR WINNER of this challenge!

Here is why Balaji takes home the Cafeteria trophy:

*  They consistently deliver inexpensive, high quality, tasty and hot food to a much larger clientele. All their menu items are good

*  Their menu has what majority of their patrons want while Lemont doesn’t have anything for its North Indian patrons

*  They have attempted to be eco-friendly

But if you don’t like to wait in long lines or make a sprint for the tables then the Lemont cafeteria would be a better bet.

Related Posts:
Lemont Rama Temple Cafeteria – Abundant Blessings
SVS Temple Aurora Canteen – Count Your Blessings
Hindu Temples of Chicago – A Photo Tour

Oct 182011
 

By Naveen

Besides cultural inclinations what else can lure a non-religious person to Hindu temples in the U.S.?

What else but the thought of gorging on an array of fine food at the temple cafeterias! ;)

The Chicago land offers some fine temples for devout Hindus to congregate, places like the Aurora Balaji Temple, Lemont Rama Temple, Swaminarayan Mandir etc.

For me, a visit to Aurora Balaji temple or in this instance the Lemont Rama Temple a.k.a. Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago is a good excuse to feast on the fine “Prasadhams”.

For a long time I was unaware the Lemont Rama Temple had a cafeteria and only recently did I discover the existence of this hidden gem.

Ram Temple Ambiance

A drive to the Lemont Rama Temple is a relaxing experience in itself.

The temple is built on a small landscaped hill (or a large mound depending on how one looks at it).

Plenty of parking, soothing greenery and quiet surroundings bring instant peace as you enter the Temple campus.

Lemont Rama TempleRama Temple Lemont

Lemont Rama Temple has multiple entrances including a Gopuram visible from a distance.

The temple has multiple blocks linked via a hallway.

I entered through the Siva temple where the Hindu gods Siva, Parvathi, Ganesh, Murugan, Durga, Aiyappa Swamy and Navagraham are worshiped. This is a spacious hall.

Sometimes you may find yourself getting free Prasadham as you move from this block to the other side of the Temple. Alas, I wasn’t lucky during my latest visit.

On the way from here to the main Rama temple, there is a fine auditorium used for cultural events and fund raisers, a Gift shop, Library, couple of footwear removal area, restrooms, the Cafeteria and finally the Rama Temple.

Radha – Krishna, Balaji, Mahalakshmi, Hanuman, Satyanarayana Swamy and, of course, Sita – Rama – Lakshmana are worshiped in this block. If the Siva temple was spacious then the Rama temple is big enough to host an event.

Lemont Rama Temple campus is very clean unlike the ever-present filth one encounters in temples back home in India.

You can see an interesting mix of North and South Indian styles in the Rama Temple’s architecture.

While the interior of the temple shows a North Indian influence, it has an impressive traditional South Indian Gopuram outside.

While a lot of visitors are North Indians, the Priests hail from the South and so is the food in the Cafeteria.

Ah… I finally come to the purpose of my visit… the Cafeteria.

The Cafeteria sports a modest appearance. It just has the basic essentials and a small kitchen.

Thankfully for the diners, although the kitchen is small the food is made with a large heart and a fine taste.

Cafeteria Service

Like most Hindu temple cafeterias in the U.S., the Lemont Rama Temple cafeteria too is self service.

During our visit, the line was short, ordering and billing were quick and the items were served quickly.

There were sufficient tables available during our two visits, on Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening, which are the peak periods.

Lemont Rama Temple CanteenLemont Rama Temple Canteen

There were enough water jars, cups and spoons.

However, sugar was kept in an open bowl instead of a sugar dispenser. This is a hygiene issue.

Lemont Rama Temple SugarSugar in an Open Bowl – Unhygienic

The full menu is available only on weekends.

Ram Temple Canteen Menu

The menu is basic but adequate for a temple cafeteria.

Here’s the stuff that made me forget the world and had me in an ecstasy.

The first item my starving stomach and hungry eyes targeted was Idly-Sambar, a South Indian favorite.

Lemont Rama Temple IdlyLukewarm Idly, Delicious Chutney

Idly was not as warm as I would have desired but the delicious fresh Coconut Chutney and the lip-smacking Sambar more than  compensated for the lukewarm Idlys.

Now, the Sambar deserves a special mention.

Although at first glance it looked watery and unimpressive, a few gulps later I could not get enough of that addictive little bitch! ;)

With a fine flavor and right temperature it was as good if not better than any Sambar I’ve ever tasted! And hailing from South India, if I know anything in life it’s my Sambar.

Lemont Rama Temple SambarSuperb Sambar

What’s next?

Of course it’s the ever reliable Medu Vadai, a spongy delight that after soaking in the warm Sambar had my taste buds in sheer rhapsody.

Lemont Rama Temple VadaiMedu Vadai – Spongy Delight

The caterers at Lemont should be proud of the fantastic Pongal they serve.

To say that the Pongal was yummy would be an understatement but I was not pleased when the “Hot Pongal” was served at lukewarm temperature.

Nevertheless, one spoon of this enchanting stuff sent me into waves of euphoria.

Lemont Rama Temple PongalFantastic Pongal

Lemon Rice was a perfect preparation with a fine tangy flavor, light yellow color and chunky rice.

This naughty medley was so palatable that I wanted to skip a few other menu items and do an encore. ;)

Lemont Rama Temple Lemon RiceFine Lemon Rice

Very rarely does Mango Lassi find its way into my list of must have items but the Rama Temple cafeteria’s Mango Lassi was truly exceptional.

Creamy in color, whipped frothy and light, sweet but not cloyingly sweet, this Lassi was so good that I greedily slurped three cups and still yearned for more.

Lemont Rama Temple Mango LassiExcellent Mango Lassi

Here is stuff at the Rama Temple that was good and tasty but not exceptional…

Masala Dosai was as expected very appetizing although I personally prefer a slightly thicker crust and a hotter version (temperature-wise)!

Lemont Rama Temple Masala DosaiMasala Dosai – Good but not Great

Curd Rice was ok.

Although it was quite palatable, for me the benchmark for temple curd rice is the exceptional offering at Aurora Balaji temple Cafeteria which ranks several notches above any other curd rice that I have tasted.

Lemont Rama Temple Curd RiceCurd Rice – OK

This curd rice had excess of Jeera and Ginger that interrupted the flavor of the curd.

After going through the assortment of sweets, I picked Badusha as it is one item I rarely eat.

Man, that was one good decision.

The Badusha wasn’t too sugary but packed enough sweetness in it to qualify as a fine dessert.

Lemont Rama Temple BadushaBadusha – Sweet Temptation

Now for the Ugly

Here is stuff for which the caterers need a tight slap.

Surprisingly, the Tamarind Rice turned out to be huge disappointment.

It lacked the enticing smell, savory taste and nice feel of fresh Puliohare and coming from a temple cafeteria it deserves to be frowned upon.

Lemont Rama Temple BadushaDissappointing Tamarind Rice

The lousy Pickle that they provided for 50 cents was extremely unpleasant.

Who would want to taste an utterly bitter thing in the middle of a fine lunch!

Hell, the pickle wasn’t even pickled enough.

Lemont Rama Temple PicklesBitter Pickles

Masala Tea was too thin and had absolutely no Tea Masala flavor.

After a few sips I abandoned it.

Lemont Rama Temple Masala ChaiFlavorless Masala Tea

By the way, which moron decided that Indians visiting temple cafeteria would have black Coffee?

This was the one item that truly annoyed me among all the items in the cafeteria.

Lemont Rama Temple CoffeeBlack Coffee

Low Price, High Quality

A key attraction of eating at a Hindu Temple cafeteria in the U.S. is the low price for most items.

For the high quality you generally get at Hindu temples here, the prices are a steal.

Here’s a look at the Lemont Rama Temple menu:

Lemont Rama Temple Canteen MenuRama Temple Menu

If Hindu Temples can sell their fine fare at such modest prices, why is it that Indian restaurants here try to palm off crappy food at exorbitant prices. The only explanation we can think of is rapacious greed of the restaurant owners and rank incompetence of the chefs.

Rama Temple Cafeteria – Overall Verdict

Despite a few stumbles the Lemont Rama temple cafeteria is a fine place to visit for good South Indian Lunch or Dinner.

Their fantastic Pongal, swoon-worthy Sambar and frothy Mango Lassi amply make up for the few deficiencies I found in some of the other items.

Just in case you’re wondering, you don’t have to be a Hindu to partake of the cafeteria’s many pleasures.

Your favorite blog SearchIndia.com strongly recommends the Lemont Rama Temple Cafeteria.

And during your visit if you happen to see an Indian-looking character with a laser-like focus on the third plate of Idly-Medhu Vadai or slurping the fourth glass of Mango Lassi you can be sure that person is yours truly. ;)

Go for it, folks!

Related Stories:
SVS Temple Aurora Canteen – Count Your Blessings
Chicago Hindu Temples – A Photo Tour