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San Diego Food & Drink

Jyoti Bihanga: World peace and good food -- for under $10

There is a small restaurant in San Diego where, by the simple act of dining, we can contribute to world peace. The cuisine is very good and very healthful, to boot.

The restaurant is Jyoti Bihanga, located in a storefront building on Adams Avenue in North Park. The name is a Bengalese (now part of Bangladesh) phrase that means "the cool bird of the absolute light supreme." It is stenciled on a wall high up near the ceiling, next to drawings of flying birds.

The name was given to the restaurant by Sri Chinmoy, the leader of a worldwide movement with thousands of followers who dedicate themselves to the principles of love and world peace. Some of the profits of the restaurant's operation go toward supporting this work. There are 16 such restaurants around the world, each with a different name but united in this mission.

Sri Chinmoy's name is not as readily recognizable as the names of other spiritual leaders but his influence is broad. He has been supported by such luminaries as Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana, among others. Twice weekly, he travels from his headquarters in Jamaica, N.Y., to the UN Building in Manhattan to conduct meditation programs for the many diplomats whose activities directly impact the state of the world.

The cuisine at Jyoti Bihanga is strictly vegetarian. No animal products of any sort are used. Recipes use only natural ingredients and the preparation is relatively simple. However, the tastes, textures and colors of the dishes are very gratifying. For carnivores, there are several fake-meat dishes offered that have a remarkable similarity to the real thing.

The restaurant is comfortable and decorated with plants and flowers. Tall church-like windows allow a great deal of light to enter during the day. The walls are painted a mellow, relaxing light blue color. A very large photograph of Sri Chinmoy hangs on the wall.

The ambiance at Jyoti-Bihanga is calm and serene. Service is quick and efficient. The menu lists a daily special called the Peace Special, in honor of Sri Chinmoy. Appetizers include "Never Say No Nachos" and a tasty Humus Dip.

Both wraps and sandwiches are served. The wraps are particularly good. The Grilled Portobello Wrap consists of grilled marinated Portobello slices with red bell peppers, fresh spinach and cheddar wrapped in an organic whole wheat chapati. It comes with a tofu sauce that is wonderful.

Thai stir fry dishes come with saut?ed vegetables, tofu and peanuts on brown rice. The peanut sauce is totally tantalizing.

For the carnivore, BBQ mock duck actually tastes like duck saut?ed with a barbeque sauce. The "neatloaf" dishes are takeoffs on meatloaf with a similar look, texture and taste. Buddha Burger is a patty made of soy protein that is a tasty burger without the fat and excess calories.

If you still have room for dessert after the large portions are finished, the carrot cake is made from scratch with fresh grated carrots and walnuts. It is topped by a terrific cream cheese frosting.

Prices at Jyoti-Bihanga are very inexpensive. It would be easy to enjoy a delicious meal for less than $10.

One good reason to frequent the restaurant, though, is to help support the ideas of world peace. Sri Chinmoy advocates meditation, prayer and athletics. Training of the body is one of his important messages. The manager of Jyoti Bihanga, Mahiyan (his adopted first name) Savage, was once a star tennis player who competed in the French Open.

The organization put together a Peace Run in 2001 that covered over 11,000 miles in all 50 states and went through more than 2000 communities carrying a "Peace Torch" to promote world harmony. It has a worldwide yearly schedule of marathons and races that it sponsors, the largest scheduled program operated by one organization, to bring people together in the idea of harmony.

The Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run is a biennial, international torch relay founded by Sri Chinmoy in 1986. The large participation athletic event unites people of diverse races, cultures and social backgrounds to share their aspirations for peace. A flaming torch is passed from hand to hand and heart to heart across six continents to spread the message.

So, by the simple act of dining, we have the opportunity to bring about positive change in the world. In addition to good food, free classes in meditation and vegetarian cooking are offered. Jyoti Bihanga is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. It is located at 3351 Adams Ave. Call (619) 282-4116 for information and directions.

Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association.

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