Like many people in Metro Vancouver, you may have driven past Richmond’s International Buddhist Temple (9160 Steveston Highway) numerous times but never wandered through its tranquil spaces. And you may not have even realized that the Temple houses an amazing Chinese vegetarian restaurant.
The entrance to the International Buddhist Temple. | Photo: Tara Lee
The site—run by the International Buddhist Society—opened in 1983, and has provided a beautiful facility for practitioners of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism to pray and make offerings ever since. Anyone can visit free of charge, though donations are accepted.
The pond and garden area of the Temple. | Photo: Tara Lee
The site is architecturally stunning. Designed according to traditional Chinese imperial style, it features elaborate gates, striking tiled roofs, and a calming use of greenery throughout, especially in its garden area. Its three main spaces, the Main Gracious Hall, the Thousand Buddha Hall, and the Ksitigarbha Hall (Ancestral Hall) are spectacular; the hushed atmosphere of worship is juxtaposed with the splendor of golden Buddha statues.
The architecture at the International Buddhist Temple is stunning. | Photo: Tara Lee
On the ground floor of the Thousand Buddha Hall, you’ll find a modest restaurant called Taste of Zen. It’s typically open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3:00pm, as well as on the first and fifteenth days of the lunar calendar (it’s always a good idea to call ahead and confirm). Those in the know wait patiently outside the restaurant before it opens and staff welcome guests inside for a nourishing meal. The room itself is simple and unassuming, accented by wood carvings and framed Chinese calligraphy as decorative touches.
A glimpse inside Taste of Zen. | Photo: Tara Lee
Taste of Zen’s cooking ethos is connected to the tenets of Buddhism, promoting loving kindness to all creatures and sustainability for the planet. As a result, only vegetarian dishes are offered as a model to its diners on how to incorporate mindfulness in everyday eating practices.
The menu changes daily, with roughly ten dishes offered (minimum charge of $20 per person), such as pan-fried water chestnut cake, ginger fried rice with veggie salted “fish,” and assorted gluten. Servers are very willing to help, suggesting their favourite items and making the dining experience as pleasant as possible.
A deep-fried taro purée dish. | Photo: Tara Lee
Sip on one of the teas offered (such as jasmine) and relax before your food arrives. The menu is best enjoyed if you go with a group of friends and/or family and sample multiple items. The kitchen takes an inventive approach to vegetarian Chinese cuisine, evidenced by a delicious plate of taro purée wrapped in seaweed and then deep-fried until crisp. Meanwhile, vegan buns are pan-fried, their golden tops and undersides a contrast to the fluffy dough surrounding minced chive and mushroom filling.
Vegan buns.| Photo: Tara Lee
Overall, flavours at Taste of Zen have a fresh cleanness to them, what the Temple would call “a taste of the Dharma.” A dish of assorted mushrooms (such as enoki) with peas, carrots, and vegetarian ham over soft tofu pairs perfectly with steamed white rice.
A soft tofu dish. | Photo: Tara Lee
Lo han vegetable chow mein comes with a plethora of ingredients sitting atop the noodles, including shiitake, straw, and wood ear mushrooms, snow fungus, deep-fried tofu and tofu skin, water chestnuts, yu choy, carrot slices, and snow peas. Again, flavours are bright—and without the meat, are light on the palate and stomach.
A vegetable chow mein dish. | Photo: Tara Lee
Once you’re full, dedicate some time to revisit the serene courtyards and sacred interior spaces of the Temple. It’s truly a restorative experience!
If you go:
Taste of Zen is located inside the International Buddhist Temple at 9160 Steveston Highway, and is typically open for lunch on Saturdays, Sundays, and special event days—call ahead to avoid disappointment. Cash and credit are accepted.
Keep in mind that the Temple is an active place of worship, open to visitors from 9:30am to 5:00pm every day. Visitors are asked to respect Temple rules such as no littering, no photography or videotaping inside the buildings, and no non-vegetarian food on the premises.
The International Buddhist Temple is an active place of worship. | Photo: Tara Lee