Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sri Lankan New Year Celebration

Tucked away in the bosom of San Jose CA, is a humble, unobtrusive little house. Casual passers-by would hardly give it a second glance, as it appears to be just another typical house in a typical residential neighborhood.

However, there is something very special about this house. Its doors are (usually) unlocked, allowing one to freely walk in, where one is met by the warm smiles and friendly greetings of ... Buddhist monks.

Buddhists monks? Yes, this single family residence has been lovingly converted (using funds donated by Buddhist devotees) into a Buddhist temple. There is a large prayer hall inside which houses the image of Buddha:

The monks and many of the devotees who worship here come from Sri Lanka. It is no surprise therefore, that this temple has become a gathering place of sorts for the local Sri Lankan community. So when the Sri Lankan New Year came recently on April 13th, the temple was a natural venue for a celebration.

Upon receiving an invitation from one of the monks to join the celebration, my wife and I immediately accepted. It was a chance to reconnect with the monks (who are friends of ours), to make new acquaintances, and to just soak up the positive, peaceful energy of the temple. Since the celebration also featured a potluck feast, it was also a great chance to get a taste of Sri Lankan food!

I was very excited, as this was my first introduction to Sri Lankan food. Sri Lanka is an island nation, and its residents eat a lot of fish. But, adhering to Buddhist principles, only vegetarian fare was served during the celebration. Among the offerings were: acharu - pickled papaya seasoned with peppers and onions (very good, but fiery hot!)

...sini sambola - fried onions mixed with chili peppers (its strong spicy taste goes very well with rice):

...There were a couple of dishes made from sweet rice mixed with coconut. The light, refeshing sweetness of these dishes provided a nice contrast to fierce spiciness of the other dishes:

The temple also has quite a number of Vietnamese devotees, who made their presence felt with dishes like Vietnamese sweet rice with accompanying condiments of deep fried onion bits and ground peanut:

...and jelly cakes shaped like lotus flowers (lotus flowers have deep symbolic significance in Buddhism):

After the feast, the celebration was highlighted by some very fun children's games like: a singing contest, sack races, hands-free donut eating contests, and smashing a pinata. With these games, the temple came alive with the joyful shouts and delighted squeals of children at play.

Here's a pic of the kids diving in to devour their donuts:

Everyone was having great time. Even us grownups had a chance to play, with our own hands-free donut eating contest (in which yours truly finished dead last - but hey, I got a free donut! ;-)

Good food, good friends, good times - that's what it's all about.

The temple can be found at:
402 Knowles Ave
San Jose, CA

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pho Nguyen

When I want a fast, convenient, tasty meal that not only warms and soothes me, but also fills me up without burning a hole in my pocket, chances are good that I'm headed for the Pho Nguyen Vietnamese Restaurant in Milpitas for a steaming hot bowl of pho (thin rice noodles served in beef broth with thin cuts of beef or chicken).

This place has only been open a few years but has already gained quite a following - and for good reason. The place is clean and well lit (which runs counter to the theory held by some people that one has to go to the older, dirtier, and more run-down places to experience good pho). Service is fast and friendly (the staff seems to get a kick out of me practicing my broken Vietnamese on them, and have even on occasion taught me some new words ;-) And of course the food is deliciously satisfying.

I usually get a large (and I do mean large - as in freaking HUGE!!) bowl of item #1. That's the House Special pho which contains just about all the different cuts of beef imaginable - steak, flank, tendon, tripe, and more. I usually have them throw in some meatballs too for good measure:

The delicately sliced meat is fresh and tender, topped with green and white onions and other garnishes which add a lively touch. The silky smooth noodles bathe in a pool of steaming hot broth which is the heart and soul of good pho. The broth is not overwhelmingly rich, but rather delivers a smooth and subtle flavor that tenderly orchestrates feathery light tinges of sweet, sour, and salty tastes with the intoxicating aroma of fragrant herbs and spices. A side dish of cilantro, basil leaves, lime, peppers, and bean sprouts is provided for one to mix in with the broth and fine-tune it even more to one's liking:

The rice plates are also quite good, as evidenced by this combination of shredded pork, pork chops, and egg cake:

The pork chops are pleasing to both eyes and palate as the light seasoning and juicy, tender, chewiness live up to the promise of its golden brown crust. The egg cakes are also particularly good - with a slightly spicy edge complementing the salty traces of seafood embedded within. It's good stuff like this that keeps me coming back to this place again and again.

Pho Nguyen
275 W Calaveras Blvd
Milpitas, CA 95035

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