Buddha Day Lunch at HMB's Burmese Monastery
- Melanie Wong
On Sunday I headed to Half Moon Bay to take part in the Buddha Day celebration at the Burmese monastery. My first stop when I arrived at 12:15pm was the front table to make a donation. I was dismayed to see that things were already wrapping up with tents and tables being broken down. Nearly all the food was gone, the only stand still open was the fry station shown on the upper left. The two young women were battering and frying slices of opo squash (upper right) and a bowl of spicy and sour sauce was offered as a condiment. Hot out of the fryer, the squash was tender and almost creamy under the crackly thin crust. The tart sauce was a good foil for the oily richness.
Many were still working on their plates heaped with what looked like some tasty home-style food and for a minute I considered mugging one of them. Luckily, ThaDu came to my rescue, taking me into the kitchen to see what might be left to eat. Soon I had my own little buffet lined up on the kitchen counter (lower left) for me to help myself. Just like at home, I popped the curry and the soup into the microwave myself for a few seconds to heat them up. Many pairs of Burmese eyes were tuned in to see if I liked the food. I did, it was all good.
I had a spicy chili-red chicken curry with some steamed white rice; a gumbo-like vegetable soup chockful of tomato, cilantro, onion, opo, okra, chicken, and fish; yellow peas (similar to garbanzos) with garlic and fish sauce; and dry braised chicken and coconut noodles. Everything was freshly prepared and made with a lot of love. Also a lot of fish sauce and garlic, with these strong flavors making a bigger statement than the restaurant Burmese food I've tried. ThaDu said this was the authentic taste.
The matron of the kitchen (lower right) who cooks for and takes care of the resident monks was as sweet as could be in making me feel welcome in her kitchen and clucking over me. She had prepared each of these dishes. I tried to wash my own dishes, but she wouldn't let me. She also invited me to come back for a bite to eat any time. Neither Burmese nor Buddhist myself, I was especially touched by the monastery's hospitality.
The next festival day is July 24.
Theravada Buddhist Society of America
17450 S. Cabrillo Highway
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
re: elise h
I don't know the starting time, but I was advised to get there by 10:30am in order to try everything. This is a small operation, smaller than the San Bruno Thai temple lunch. In the Burmese branch of Buddhism, unlike the Chinese, devotees are not prohibited from eating meat, onion, or garlic. Plenty of garlic in the food!
Unlike the Thai temples, you don't make a specific donation for each serving of food or buy tokens. You just make one donation at the front table and then the food provided by various families is shared with you as part of the community. You get a very official-looking receipt that says your donations is fully deductible. I'm embarassed to say that I gave $10. I had asked the lady who was accepting the money if that was a suitable amount and she said that would be fine. Next time I'd probably up that to at least $20 per person or so. Some people were writing checks for $100 to $500, as there's a building fund campaign going on.
Besides the homemade food, the other thing that's lovely about it is the rural setting. Unlike the urban temples, this one is in a meadow where you're refreshed by the sea breezes. It was very pleasant to be outdoors here in yesterday's fine weather. The property is west of Hwy 1 with a stand of eucalyptus in front and there's a left turn lane when approaching from the north.
I learned that there are a few other Burmese monasteries/temples in the area. Fremont, Boulder Creek, Santa Rosa (!), and others. The Burmese community in Northern California is not that large, mostly ethnic Chinese, and it seems that they all know each other. The experience in Half Moon Bay was like hanging out with extended family. When I said that I had grown up in Salinas, of course, they knew the late Dr. Than, a Burmese-Chinese urologist, and his children who went to high school with me.
I hope you get a chance to try the Boulder Creek's festival and let us know about it. I've heard that when they ring the bell for the start of lunch, the surrounding neighbors come over for the food! That location has outreach to philosophy students at UCSC and sounds like it draws more from outside the Burmese community.