The two restaurants were one borough and worlds apart. The night before I'd been at Peter Luger, the temple to porterhouse excess in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge. The next day I was deep in Queens, navigating the Sunday "international smorgasboard" at Annam Brahma. The small vegetarian restaurant is owned and operated by students of Sri Chinmoy, an Indian-born spiritual guru whose teachings centered on meditation and consciousness-raising—and so qualifies for my survey of inexpensive foodstuffs proffered by religous organizations. At $12.95 for the smorgasbord, this Sunday-only option (an à la carte menu operates for the rest of the week) stretches the meaning [...]
I’ve always been under the impression that religious spaces were designed to invoke awe in the power of the divine. I’m thinking of the flying buttresses and soaring ceilings of Gothic cathedral architecture, or the sweeping scale and towering minarets of Delhi’s Jama Masjid—extreme examples, for sure. Yet I also presumed that even neighborhood places of worship aimed for similar aesthetic splendor. And maybe that's the case in their spaces dedicated to prayer. But the spaces where religious groups offer food? Well, as far as I've been able to gather during this project to eat cheaply (and satisfyingly, if possible) from the hands of the believers—not so much. [...]
I’ve seen them for years. On the way from my old home in West Philadelphia to the airport or the stadiums. Changing subway lines underneath City Hall. In front of the Lowe’s on the way to a past job. I’m talking about the well-dressed representatives of the Nation of Islam, who hawk neatly packaged bean pies (along with copies of the nation’s newspaper The Final Call) to commuters passing through these high-traffic locations. But only recently did it occur to me that I should be sampling their offerings as part of my halting, unsystematic inquiry into foodstuffs inexpensively proffered by various religious organizations.
In the month since I’d dined with the Episcopalians for Shrove Tuesday, I’d been spending too much money going out to eat. It was time to take advantage of the generosity of another religious group and avail myself of a free meal, so I headed to the closest Sikh temple.
The trip from my South Philadelphia home took me to the tiny town of Millbourne, just outside the city limits, but serviced by the El train. Of Millbourne’s slightly more than 1,000 residents, the 2010 census found that over half are of Asian descent—and almost all of these are South Asian: Indians, but also Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.
With a rarely seen uncle who’s been involved in Scientology for decades, I’m a sucker for stories about the “church.” Thanks to the New Yorker, I had an informative month of February. But I was most interested to discover that their Celebrity Centre is an excellent, undiscovered destination for a high-quality, cheap lunch when in Hollywood. As a committed eater, I was curious: Do other religions offer equally worthy opportunities for subsidized dining?
A recent dinner conversation with some Episcopalian friends provided an opportunity to begin an investigation. “Our church is doing a pancake supper for Shrove Tuesday,” said Emily, over a meal of eggplant, polenta and fresh-baked [...]