Friday, October 14, 2005

Lotus Tea House

Lotus Tea House
79 Regina St. North
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 3A7

Right before the Thanksgiving long weekend, the temperature finally dropped to the seasonal norm. We “celebrated” the comfy cool weather by enjoying a bowl of spicy soup noodles and spicy tofu at Lotus Tea House last Friday.

We visit Lotus Tea House so often that we have tried all the main dishes (and most of their appetizers, desserts and tea). I still remember the first time I had their food, it made me feel quite nostalgic. In Asia, the varieties of soya-products are countless. Footurkey? ah…much more than that. It can be faux ham, faux chicken nuggets, faux sea scallops or even faux smoked duck breast...pretty much sky is the limit.

Some animal right advocates and Buddhists are strongly against this type of vegetarian cuisine. The main purpose of being vegetarian is to stop killing, consuming animals. If you consume things which taste like meat, you’re still thinking about killing. This totally ruins the whole purpose of being vegetarian. On the other hand, all the faux-meat products might be a means to persuade meat-eaters to try vegetarian food. They might provide the “guilty pleasure” for vegetarians. They are also great for people who would love to be vegetarian but shy away due to the limited choices. After all, vegetarian need not be boring.

All the dishes prepared in Lotus Tea House are strictly Buddhist; that is, meatless (of course!), no garlic, no onion, no green onion and non-alcoholic. That is obvious that they won’t bother to apply for the liquor license.

Here are the items I really enjoy:
- Soup which comes with the combo. (This item might also be available on the menu). The soup is extremely flavorful. I was inspired by their veggy soup and made few pots last winter. Let’s just say that I KNOW how difficult to achieve that level of richness.
- Cold noodles with sesame sauce. It is such an indulgence to have their cold noodles dish on a hot summer day. Normally this recipe (Chinese style) calls for shredded ham (or cooked chicken breasts), julienne cucumber and carrots. The sesame sauce might blend in unsweetened peanut butter and garlic. At Lotus Tea House, this dish is prepared with faux ham and the sesame sauce is peanut-free. But please avoid this dish if you have nut (or peanut) allergy.
- Spicy tofu with rice. It is quite spicy but not THAT spicy. You won’t feel much in the first bite. But the spiciness will eventually kick in. Moreover, you’ll gradually feel the tickling, numb sensation spreading within/around your mouth. I am no pepper expert but I found it is more interesting to have different layers of spiciness than the pure suicido.
- Curry with rice. The curry flavor is closer to the Japanese style (milder and sweeter than the common curry items in Indian restaurants). They replace the stew meat with some chewy soya pieces which taste like fish balls.
- House Special Soup noodles. If without the soya pieces, its flavor is almost identical to “hong shao” beef stew with noodles. The Taiwanese take beef noodles quite seriously. There is actually a festival dedicated to it. The soup base is considered a trade secret. I haven’t tasted any beef noodles so authentic in Canada yet ironically, it is vegetarian.
- Fruit tea. The fruits have to be diced (or from a can) and cooked in simple syrup. Then they will be combined with hot water, orange juice and tea leaves (maybe with a shot of pineapple or passion fruit syrup to boost the flavor). It is such a tedious process that I’d rather enjoy it at Lotus Tea House than preparing it at home. One tip on enjoying this tea – ask for refill when the teapot is half-empty. Otherwise the refill will taste flavorless.
I heard that Lotus Tea House is operated by volunteers or “semi-volunteers” (less or equal to minimum wage). They close on Mondays for their weekly workshop (worshiping). They have a nice meditation room on the second floor. If you want to understand Buddhism more, it might be a good starting point. If you are not that religious or you are already devoted to other religions, you may just simply enjoy their food.

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