With Hurricane Sandy taking aim at the Tri-State area and predicted to make landfall on Monday, Oct 29th, we decided to visit the Venkateswara Temple in Bridgewater, NJ the day before.
The temple is usually crowded during weekends, but not surprisingly attendance on the Sunday before Sandy’s arrival was pretty thin.
The temple is located at 1075 Route 202/206, Bridgewater, NJ 08807.
It is surrounded by residential and industrial property. The pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis is located to the south of the temple property.
The temple premises underwent a major expansion in the recent past.
In the last three years, they have expanded the parking lot, built new living quarters for the priests and opened up a convenient entrance to the premises.
The temple management did run into legal issues with Bridgewater town residents who objected to the expansion plans of the temple. But the temple reached a ‘rational resolution’ with Bridgewater residents and moved ahead with their expansion plans.
Balaji – Satellite Style
The main temple hall is set up in a satellite style formation.
The focal point of the temple is the mini-Lord Venkateshwara temple in the middle with about 16 other gods from the Hindu pantheon in an orbit around Venkateshwara.
Devotees are not allowed to enter the inner sanctum sanctorum of the Lord Venkateshwara mini-temple.
The usual services that are available at most Hindu temples in North America are available here as well, car pooja, priest for hire for housewarming ceremonies, archana services etc.
Car Puja in Progress at Balaji Temple
One hears the ‘unity in diversity’ slogan quite a bit in India to signify the diversity in that country.
The Bridgewater temple is a bit of a testament to that.
It is a bit ironic that one can find a microcosm of India in the middle of a temple in New Jersey.
Twenty something IT workers, older Gujarati folks in their sixties and seventies, grandparents from India speaking Tamil, Telugu, Konkani, Marathi and a few other Indian languages, scampering toddlers let loose, you can find them all here.
Visual images of ‘Mile sur mera tumhara‘ were flitting by in our heads.
Balaji Temple Canteen
And now for the grand purpose of our visit!
The temple canteen is in the lower level of the building.
Also located in the lower level is a marriage hall.
On the day of our visit, there was a small wedding ceremony under way at the marriage hall.
We were amazed at how small the ceremony was with just a few people in attendance.
Hmmmm, we’ve been hearing about stories of H1B visa holders getting married here in the USA instead of India, because re-entry for H1B Visa holders has been coming under increased scrutiny lately.
We were left wondering if this was one of those slimmed down in size H1B emergency weddings, with a reduced number of freeloaders who are usually in attendance at big fat Indian weddings.
We proceeded to the temple canteen and placed orders for Vada, Pongal, Mysore Masala Dosa, Plain Dosa, Vegetable Biriyani, Gulab Jamun, Mango Lassi and Coffee.
The temple canteen is largely a volunteer run operation with the help of a few senoritas.
We assume the senoritas are not volunteers!
No Spoons and Forks
There is a station at the center of the canteen where Sambar, Chutney and plastic spoons are kept.
Surprisingly, we could not find any plastic forks or knives. One would think with things like Idli and Vada being served a fork or a spoon would be of some use.
The two senoritas were busy cranking out Dosas and Medhu Vadas. The two volunteers who were managing the delivery of the orders had a hard time keeping things straight on a slow day.
Dosa orders were getting mixed up with patrons wondering what happened to their Dosa orders.
The ways it works is that Dosas are made to order, and the order number is called for Dosas to be picked up when they’re ready.
The Vadas were nice and crispy on the outside and well cooked inside.
Balaji Temple Canteen Vada
However, we noticed that the Vadas though cooked were fairly dense inside and had soaked in too much oil.
From the little we know about Medhu Vadas – temperature of the cooking oil, amount of baking soda added and the moisture in the dough are important factors that go into the making of a crispy, yet light Vada with the right texture inside.
With a Mexican senorita cranking out doughnuts following a process that someone had provided to her, one cannot expect more from the Medhu Vadas.
With such an operation in place, we assume cooking technique and nuance do not have a role to play here.
Sambar and Chutneys
The Sambar on the other hand was good, had a few vegetables in it with some curry leaves.
It had the right amount of tang, aroma and was not too watery or dense.
Pretty good Sambar it was.
Sambar @ Temple Canteen
There were two chutneys, coconut chutney and red chutney.
The coconut chutney was so so.
Tasted like a mystery white concoction, in fact it did not taste like anything at all.
The red chutney was a tomato based preparation. It tasted tangy and a bit spicy.
We have had better tomato chutney but this one wasn’t bad at all.
The Pongal was of the yellow kind.
We have seen Pongal in at least two formulations – the white kind a.k.a Venn Pongal and the yellow kind.
Venkateswara Temple Canteen Pongal
Yellow Pongal was on offer at the temple.
We got two scoops of the pasty offering in a paper bowl.
Spiced lightly, with a few whole black peppercorns and a few curry leaves the Pongal was a tad above average.
We deduct a few points from the Pongal for being a little pasty.
Then came the Mysore Masala Dosa, the Queen of South Indian treats.
We expected the potato masala to be on the inside, but our Dosa had the potato Masala Dosa as a side.
It felt like the masala was laid on the side as an afterthought.
Masala Dosa @ Balaji Temple
Again it was a senorita banging out Dosas who did not follow the process to a T here.
We were a little put off by the filling not being on the inside, since it takes away from the experience of relishing a Dosa.
However, the potato masala was a total redemption, spicy, not dry, with some green chillies, ginger, onions it was a home run.
The insides of the Dosa was smeared with a paste which made it Mysore Masala Dosa as opposed to a regular Masala Dosa.
The smeared paste tasted like it was made with ground up lentils, not bad but didn’t seem to add anything to the Dosa.
We tried the plain Dosa as well, it was crispy, well prepared and went down well with the Sambar.
We have seen many a Mexican working their butts off in Indian restaurants and temple canteens cooking up Idlis and Dosas but we haven’t seen any Pueblo’s Indian restaurant or Padre’s Idli and Dosa Bhavan yet.
Maybe Senor doesn’t get asafoetida similar to Patel not able to fathom the fetish for Bacon.
From the spicy masala, we headed to the Vegetable Biriyani.
It was heaped into a Styrofoam container and served with an accompaniment of yogurt Raitha.
Vegetable Biryani sans Vegetables
The rice in the Vegetable Biriyani was cooked nicely and it was fluffy and aromatic.
Disappointingly, there were no vegetables to be found in the Vegetable Biriyani except for one teeny piece of carrot.
Completely devoid of any vegetables, this was just Indian Garam Masala flavored rice.
This one had false advertising written all over it.
We turned our attention to the Gulab Jamun next.
Each order comes in a small styrofoam cup with one Gulab Jamun that is slightly bigger in size than the usual.
Nestled in some light sugar syrup, the Jamun was delicious.
It was not too sweet and did not have the dreaded ‘seed’ in the middle which is the nemesis of Jamuns.
When the dough in the middle of the Jamun is not cooked through the raw dough in the center is akin to a seed, the Venkateswara Temple Jamun did not suffer from this effect.
Kaapi and Lassi
Speaking of beverages, we tried coffee and Lassi.
The coffee was a milky concoction, way too much milk in the coffee.
Couldn’t even tell if it was brewed coffee or the instant kind, because all we tasted was the milk.
A huge letdown considering that we were expecting to get South Indian style filter Kaapi.
Lassi was ordinary, poured out of a can and diluted.
Priced at $2, we couldn’t complain much.
So, So Lassi
Balaji Temple Canteen Rating
Overall, we were pleased with our visit to the temple.
Easily accessible, serene location, large campus with ample parking, Gods (or deities depending on your pov) galore, mediocre canteen, the pluses outweigh the minuses.
Definitely worth a visit. – © sagar.com