RIGA - About once a week since I first moved here, I've met a lady on or near Barona street asking for money for the Hare Krishna "Dzivibas Ediens" (Food for Life) program, which feeds the homeless and anyone else who lines up in front of the Barona street building.
And for whatever reason I once gave her a few santims or so, and she gave me some cookies and a free book. This became a habit, and she started calling me her usual customer. She then gave me a card with an address of their restaurant, which is next to the Dzivibas Ediens entry.
And after a year of living in Latvia, I finally went there. And then I went again, and took my friends, and another habit was born.
Upon entering, I was greeted with the nearly overwhelming curry smell that sometimes leaks out onto the street. The inside wall of the foyer is covered in articles and writings about the charitable side of the Hare Krishna Center, the work they've been doing in the community for 17 years and the 2.5 million hot meals they've doled out to the hungry.
The food is ridiculously cheap and completely vegetarian. Eggplant pizzas, fried soy cheese, Bengali specialties, the lassi yogurt drink, traditional desserts and more make up the menu at the cafeteria style restaurant.
Be aware though, coming at lunch or dinner time may result in no seating in the tiny restaurant.
The Hare Krishna Center takes up an entire building on Barona Street and includes a place of worship and a great Indian boutique, Hanuman, with spices, incense, henna, fabric and food, all imported from India.
The center also includes an Ajurvedic therapy center for well-being and fitness. The therapy center also offers classes in positive thinking, massage, and can apparently help cure depression.
The center always seems to be busy and is a far cry from the sort of stereotypical Hare Krishna image that many have 's though in the summertime it is possible to see the followers of the religion in red robes with tambourines chanting down the street. But they tend not to distract from the incredible exotic and tasty meals that can be had.
As the economic crisis has overtaken much of Latvia, I asked my donation lady if the amount of people has increased. She said yes, there are now more people than they've ever had.
"We used to be able to give out fresh vegetables and fruits, but now we can really only afford to give people porridge," she said as she handed me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita (a Hindu Holy book).
Even if you can't make time in your busy schedules to pop in for some delightfully different cuisine, maybe you can find it in your hearts to give a little if you see the Hare Krishna lady on the streets. You'll be rewarded with a good feeling and some fresh butter cookies.