I first heard about Karuna Vegie House during the Lunar New Year celebrations in 2019: the Year of the Pig. The Sakyamuni Buddhist Centre in Lyneham welcomes visitors from the broader community to celebrate the festival, and though I had often walked past and admired the ornately decorated archway, this was my first visit.
Towards the back of the deceptively large complex, nuns were cooking huge vats of noodle soup to feed the many visitors who had come for the festival. It was a real privilege to experience their hospitality, and I was delighted to learn that they also run a small restaurant so I wouldn’t have to wait for the next Lunar New Year to enjoy another bowl of that delicious soup!
Since then, I’ve become a regular, and on my most recent visit, I was lucky enough to sit down with Thich Quan Ba, the monastery’s founding abbot, to share a pot of tea and talk about what makes this place so special.
Quang Ba sits comfortably in his traditional monk’s robes and pours our tea as he tells me: “Everyone here is a volunteer, even me.”
Members of the Vietnamese Buddhist community join the monks, who serve customers on Friday and Saturday evenings. The vegan menu is prepared fresh by nuns who also grow many of the vegetables and herbs they use. But when I ask Quang Ba if these dishes are the typical diet of those living here in the monastery, he laughs.
“The restaurant food is a luxury! We are even more simple with our food for the monastery.”
He explains that they want to show their customers something special.
“We are not so big, nothing very expensive, but we want people to experience something different. You won’t get this anywhere else.”
The dining space is definitely different from other restaurants, with quotes in calligraphy hanging on the walls and a large ornate bell decorating one corner of the room. Red lanterns dangle from the ceiling and there’s a bookshelf with free books for those interested in learning more about Buddhism. The entirely vegan menu has a good selection of dishes and also lists the benefits of vegetarian eating on the back.
I start with fried tofu with lemongrass and chilli. The texture of the tofu, made fresh by the nuns, is incredibly creamy underneath the fried exterior. There’s plenty of lemongrass on top, as well as a paste inside the tofu squares for an extra kick of flavour. It’s not very spicy, so I add chilli from the pot on the table, which is hotter than I’d anticipated.
Instead of ordering my favourite noodle soup, I decide to try something different: Bánh Xèo, or Vietnamese crepe.
The golden and very crispy crepe is folded in half and filled with bean sprouts, vegetables, and some fake-meat tofu in the shape of sliced prawns. A salad of lettuce and fresh mint, along with a small bowl of a light soy dressing, cuts through the slight oiliness of the crepe. It is a bit messy to eat – I end up using a fork-and-fingers combination – but it’s a delicious mix of fresh flavours and textures, and I love trying dishes that you don’t often see on other menus. Most meals here are well suited to sharing, so I’d recommend bringing a group to try a range of dishes.
The proceeds from the restaurant go towards the ongoing construction of the temple and monastery, so there’s plenty of reasons to enjoy eating here. As Quang Ba says: “Spending half an hour here will give everyone a good feeling.”
I’ll be back soon for more of that good feeling, and a bowl of noodle soup!
Karuna Vegie House is located at the back of the Sakyamuni Buddhist Centre at 32 Archibald St in Lyneham. Park at the front, and follow the signs down the driveway to reach the restaurant.
The original Karuna Vegie House Facebook page was recently hacked, so you can now find them at Karuna Vegan Restaurant. Open Friday and Saturday 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Bookings recommended.