268 Karangahape Rd, CBD
I HAVE A SECRET: Food For Life is my go-to place for comfort food and when I want to hide away and not bump into friends. Doesn’t everyone have a favourite venue for this very purpose?
The thing is, quite often when I’m in the CBD I’ve got one appointment after another, and I just need a breather, some place I can go and sit and eat some hearty food, and where it really doesn’t matter if I’m wearing my best threads, and where it doesn’t cost very much, at all.
Food For Life is run by the Hare Krishna, and the cost of the food is so low that it must be subsidised by the organisation in the hope that the quality of the dining experience will bring new recruits and potential converts to the cause. Having said that, the only form of propaganda I’ve ever been subjected to on what now must be hundreds of visits over the years is the interminable “hare-hare, Krishna-krishna” music on the sound system, and the very occasional recommendation to attend a free meal and lecture.
I don’t know anywhere else you can still get a good square meal for around $6, or a huge thali for around $12, and that explains why the place sometimes looks more like a soup kitchen for the displaced than a café. No, it’s not filled with the destitute, but it’s a favourite haunt of students, inner city bohemians and a miscellany of cash-strapped CBD dwellers.
The food isn’t flash. As you can see from the photograph, the basic meal consists of a watery potato and chickpea curry with traces of spinach, rice and three pakoras dipped into a tomato sauce, with a small bowl of dhal soup and a plate of custard pudding. To get a flavour burst that’s otherwise lacking, I usually ask for a small helping of paneer and peas curry (top of the plate in the picture), which adds $1 to the price.
Hare Krishna’s don’t use either onions or garlic in their meals, nor much in the way of spice, because they make us horny, and that’s not good when you’re trying to live a virtuous life. Apparently. When you eat the food, you’re very aware of the absence of these amazing food staples, but at the same time, that very absence allows other flavours to permeate and make themselves known to your palate, so it’s not all bad. And sometimes, I want something a little bland and homely, and Food For Life’s curries remind me of my own Mum’s curries – she chokes on chillies, so they’re about as mild as can get.
But between the lentils and chickpeas, there’s plenty of protein here, and lots of other goodness, and I generally feel perfectly satisfied after eating here, despite the lack of wow moments; and maybe wow moments don’t belong in the lexicon of the everyday, anyway?
As I mentioned above, however, there are ways to put a little more zing on your plate. Apart from peas and paneer chunks, they also sell big slabs of paneer in a rich sauce (sometimes known as paneer steaks), huge and crispy samosas for only $2.50, and a variety of other ready-to-eat counter food.
Food For Life will never be the kind of place you take a first date, but I know I’ll be back – probably 100 more times – when I just want some peace and a good hearty scoff. GARY STEEL
268 Karangahape Rd, CBD