Auckland’s best vegetarian cuisine is hidden inside a grand Buddhist temple
I walk through manicured gardens beneath the intricate layers of a temple roof. Burning incense, tinkling chimes and the characteristic sound of a metal spatula hitting a wok complete the scene.
I might be in Southeast Asia, but I’m in the middle of Southeast Auckland. The lavish Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple covers four hectares in the suburb of Flat Bush, making it the largest such temple in New Zealand.
Officially opened in 2007 by the Venerable Master, the elaborate building is adapted from the design of the Tang Dynasty – the golden age of Chinese arts and culture – with touches like green tiles and tall brown pillars meant to project “magnificence, greatness, culture and strength”. This is definitely one hell of a building, and a hidden gem that I had no idea before, even in Auckland.
An attendant near the entrance tells me that about 8 or 9 monks inhabit the temple. She also reveals that spring is the best time to visit when the cherry trees that lead to the grand temple come out in full bloom.
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The walk takes me on raised wooden platforms through autumnal cherry trees with words of wisdom hanging from golden bells attached to the branches. I see several monks draped in traditional dress throughout the property. One is praying in front of a huge shrine made from a single block of white jade; another features a Nutri-Grain offering on a statue – a bird lands.
There’s a pagoda with its own water feature, a room where you can practice the cursive drawings of Chinese calligraphy, an art gallery covered in twinkling string lights, as well as a three-ton bell hanging from the ceiling. None of these attractions are why I came to the temple, but they certainly make me consider taking the rest of the afternoon to soak up the serenity.
One of the most popular features is found before you even enter the gripping yard. Tucked away to the left of the main entrance, across the gift shop selling jade statues and incense, is the temple cafe where nourishing vegetarian food is served quickly and steaming.
The Fo Guang Shan order has over 200 Water Drop Teahouse outposts around the world. Joining the long queue of visitors leaves plenty of time to look at the menu. There’s Water Drop’s signature bowl of pickled vegetables, barbecue wonton noodles, curry roti, steamed siu mai dumplings, noodle dishes and rice.
I opt for the laksa noodle soup ($15) and within minutes a steaming bowl arrives at my table. Previous encounters with the comfort food have almost always been meat-filled, where shrimp and chicken swim together in a rich coconut broth.
Here, classic inclusions like fishballs have been swapped out for floating orbs of identically textured mushrooms. Soy-based char siu fake pork works like similar magic and could fool even the most stubborn carnivores. The dark orange broth is as rich, spicy and silky as you’d expect from laksa, with a generous packet of egg noodles tucked underneath.
The idea of the cafe is to manifest Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s ideal of “compensating droplets of kindness with sources of gratitude”. A sure way to tap into the positive calming energy is to take a mediative walk through the gardens, explore the shrines, and then sit down in the wooden dining area.
Find the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple and Auckland Water Drop Teahouse at 16 Stancombe Road, Flat Bush, Manukau. It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Appropriate attire must be worn when visiting the park. See: fgs.org.nz
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