When the waiter asked if we would like three glasses of fresh-squeezed(*) sugarcane juice for the table, only my dad was persuaded. The waiter was quite earnest too, he insisted that it was good and that it would induce no extra cost (the meal is buffet-style for a modest $8.99/person, roughly the cost of a bowl of pho in Berkeley). However, the sugarcane juices I’d had before, although good, were soon too sweet, and for a hot summer day I find sugar particularly less appetizing than plain water, so I declined.
Immediately after I took a sip from my dad’s glass, I changed my mind. I asked the same waiter for a glass, he laughed at me of course, “Told you it was good!”. It was not sugary, but sweet in a vegetal way, somewhat like an intensified goji berry tea. My dad ordered a second glass for himself.
The restaurant, operated under the name of Tinh Luat Buddhist Temple and by Vietnamese buddhists, serves exclusively vegan food. Besides the usual vegan fried rice, noodles and stirfries, their vegan soups are surprisingly flavorful. In fact, I liked all of their soups. Mom got a “mì giác ngộ” (“enlightening noodle soup”), which she said tasted similar to a braised duck noodle soup. My bún măng (bamboo shoot noodle soup) was a bit heavy on the ginger but contained enough variety to entertain the eater. The canh chua (sour soup) was refreshing, and my favorite, a taro and mung bean soup, was slightly sweet, very nutty and cool enough to transport you from summer into late fall(**).
The restaurant is clean, the staff prompt and friendly, the price comfortable for retired elders and social workers, the menu so aptly designed in tune with the season – Tinh Luat restaurant overflows with consideration for its patrons. I’m eager to come back in the winter.
Address: Tịnh Luật Vegetarian Buffet
11360 Bellaire Blvd #380,
Houston, TX 77072
(*) What verb do you use to describe the act of running the sugarcane stalks through a machine to extract their juice into a cup?
(**) I was reading this short Texas recipe book and got a bit confused: why does a hot place like Texas host such hot foods like chili? Wouldn’t you want to cool yourself down instead of heating yourself up to as hot as the air you sit in?