SVS Temple Aurora Canteen

(by Naveen)

Sri Venkateswara Temple Canteen
1145 West Sullivan Rd
Aurora, IL 60506

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Edukondalavada Venkata Ramana Govinda Govinda!

Hey wait!

Before you all scoot thinking this is a religious post, I swear on Balaji that you folks will be chanting the same Edukondalavada...Govinda Govinda mantra after tasting the non pareil South Indian Tiffin offered at Sri Venkateswara Swami (Balaji) Temple in Aurora, IL.

No kidding.

SVS Temple Aurora, Chicago
SVS Temple Aurora - Nourishing the Soul & the Stomach

After moving from the bustling Chicago downtown to a tranquil suburb, I paid a visit to the famous Balaji temple aka. SVS Temple Aurora, IL this last weekend.

My appetites were roused and I was drooling in anticipation of laying my hands on the big, soft, curvaceous and spongy Idly.

What were you thinking, you perverts?

Quiet, Serene and Large Parking
Balaji temple is a fine oasis for Desis in the Chicago area, especially the South Indian community, to congregate harmoniously in the name of Vishnu (Balaji/Venkateswara is a form of Vishnu) and food, two things dear to most Hindus.

The campus is sprawling and the temple itself is constructed away from the road and in the middle of man-made ponds that enhance the aura and beauty of the place.

SVS Temple Aurora
Sylvan Surroundings of the SVS Temple, Aurora

  Despite a large parking lot in front of the temple, a new additional parking lot has been opened to accommodate more guests / worshipers. The overall capacity is probably 400+ parking spaces which is adequate except on special days like Diwali etc.

The temple itself is a beautiful structure, both the interiors and the external facade.

In sheer majesty, it can match any traditional South Indian temple in India.

SVS Temple Services
Devout Hindus may visit this temple to worship Ganesh (Pillayar), Karthikeya (Murugan), Siva, Bhramarambhika (Parvathi), Navagraham, Balaji / Sri Venkateswara Swamy / Vishnu, Sri Devi (Maha Lakshmi), Bhoo Devi (Andal), Kanyeka Parameswari, Aiyappan and Hanuman (Anjaneyar).

Unlike major temples in India, one does not need to buy tickets for Darshan of the deities at the SVS Temple. Nat'rlich, you don't have special tickets that allow you to bypass the queue either.

Balaji temple is a one-stop shop for various Hindu religious functions and activities.

Apart from the regular sevas, the temple conducts special pujas periodically based on important dates in the Hindu calendar.

Some of the regular services offered by Temple are:

1. Archana

2. Car Puja, House-warming, etc.

3. Facilities (Space, Catering, Purohit, Puja Items etc.) and to conduct family functions including Marriages.

4. A separate building called Panchavati for Dance, Musical recitals and other cultural activities

5. Gift Shop

6. Sales of Panchangam (Hindu calendar), Titan Watches embossed with Balaji's likeness, Balaji Photos and a few other religious artifacts

7. And, of course, a Canteen

Ah, but I digress.

The purpose of this review is to cover just the temple canteen and not the temple itself.

So, y'all may visit the SVS Temple web site for details of their services and schedules and read ahead for the food review.

Busy Temple, Busier Cafeteria, and Clean Premises
The moment you near the temple entrance you cannot miss the distinctive, inviting aroma of the two South Indian favorites Vadai and Sambar.

Devotees have to walk past the Canteen on the 1st floor to enter the Sannadhis (worshiping premises) in the 2nd floor. It's probably designed to make people spend less time worshiping and more money eating.

Not a bad commercial idea!

The temple is at its busiest on weekends.

The lovely Sari clad women, Salwar wearing belles, kids running helter-skelter, slow moving old Mamas and Mamis, loud discussions in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, kids responding in American accent to dads admonishing them in an acquired accent and the several quirkiness associated with South Indians, makes this divine island a lively place.

The clean kitchen, use of gloves to serve and a clean restroom makes us forget any lingering worries and encourage us to eat heartily with gusto.

Busy Canteen at SVS Temple Aurora
Crowded Canteen at SVS Temple

SVS Temple Menu OOPS! It's called Prasadham

SVS Canteen offers only the popular South Indian Tiffin and snack items in its menu (with Mango Lassi being an exception).

No Garlic Naan, Paneer Makhani, Paav-Bhaji, Dhokla or Kathiawadi food served here.

And if you shaitans dare to even think of non-vegetarian items, may Balaji hurl his nastiest curses at you!

Idly, Vadai, Idly-Vadai Combo, Pongal, Pongal-Vadai Combo, Dosai, Puliohare (Tamarind Rice), Thayir Sadham (Curd Rice), Tea, Indian Coffee, Black Coffee, Mango Lassi, Laddu and Bholi is the complete menu with one or two snack items added occasionally.

How to Buy Food in SVS Canteen?
SVS Canteen is a self-service place.

The canteen is run by volunteers and a small admin staff.

1. Stand in a line and buy tokens from billing counter. Some items such as Bholi, Laddu, and Murukku etc. are pre-packed and you can collect it here.

2. Stand in multiple lines to exchange tokens for the food items.

a. Idly, Vadai, and Pongal go in one line.

b. Dosai counter collects the token and issues a ticket. You may collect your Dosai when your number flashes.

c. Puliohare and Thayir Sadham are boxed and go in a separate line.

d. Another line for Sambar and Chutney.

e. Dispensers are available for Tea, Coffee and Mango Lassi.

Freshly prepared items are available only on weekends or special days.

Important: Dosai counter opens at 11:30 am on weekends only.

Be prepared for long lines during lunch / dinner hours during weekends.

SVS Temple Food Review
Instead of elaborate descriptions item by item, I would say that most of the items were simply fantastic.

My taste buds were tingled lovingly by the temple kitchen's passionately cooked food that appeared, tasted, smelt and felt like what good South Indian Tiffin ought to be.

Idly was big, soft, spongy, warm and an absolute pleasure when dipped in the fine tangy, vegetable and aroma rich Sambar.

Coconut chutney was fresh, fragrant and left a spicy feel which made me hanker for more and more of it.

Idly-Vada at SVS Temple, Aurora
Great Idly-Vadai Combo

The Vadai was perfect in shape, rich in color, right in size, and fine in taste and surprisingly not oily!

Pongal was an absolute treat.

With the perfect temperature, it melted in my mouth giving me a loving feel of its well mixed ingredients such as Black Peppercorn (Milagu), Ghee and Curry leaf.

Simply orgasmic!

Pongal at SVS Temple, Aurora Canteen
Delicious Pongal & Vadai with Chutney & Sambar

Dosai was large, thick and tasted absolutely splendid with the Potato Masala on the side.

One thing I like about the temple's Dosai is its nice balanced thickness´┐Ż neither too thin (like paper-roast) nor too thick (like Uthappam).

Dosa at SVS Temple Aurora
Heavenly Dosai at SVS Temple

Dosa at SVS Temple Aurora
Closer Encounters of the Dosai Kind

Puliohare was tangy, hot, and fragrant with a great after-taste.

The chunky rice only appears that way.

The moment you taste them you forget everything else that you ate.

Pulihora at SVS Temple Aurora
Must-not-miss Puliohare at SVS Temple

Curd Rice was another fine preparation that would make any Tamil Brahmin proud given the deep roots of this dish in the kitchens of the twice-born.

The generously sprinkled green chillis and mustard with a tinge of ginger and Hing served as a perfect coolant after all the spicier items above.

Yummy Curd Rice @ SVS Temple Canteen

Our desserts Bholi and Laddu were probably the least noteworthy items.

The Laddu didn't seem fresh.

Bholi was fine but it's best consumed when it is fresh off the stove.

Bholi, Laddu at SVS temple Aurora
Sweet Temptations - Bholi & Laddu

The mad South Indian rush had emptied the Indian Coffee and I had to settle for Tea, which was fine by the way and so was the Mango Lassi.

Tea at SVS temple Aurora
Coffee, Tea or Me? Tea, for Now.

What I didn't Like
While SVS Canteen serves divine food, we did encounter a few irritations:

1. The recent lousy demand / suggestion from the canteen admin staff to share the water cups. If you buy for 3 people, you are either asked to drink from the fountain directly or share 1 cup!! WTF.

2. The long time it takes from the moment you stand in the first line to the time you get to eat.

3. Crowd management is a problem. Despite their efficient cooking, they run out of food items from time to time and it may take a while to get what you want. In my case, they ran out of Thayir Sadham leading to a 10-minutes wait.

4. Billing can sometimes be chaotic and sometimes they are offended when you ask them for receipts.

My Verdict - People come to see the Lord and the food keeps them cumming!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the SVS Temple Canteen proudly serves the absolutely best South Indian Tiffin in the Chicago land area.

Their Idly, Vadai and Pongal are simply unmatched in quality or taste.

A guy standing behind me in the line was profusely praising the Canteen to some tourists who were in the line. He proudly boasted about his clever strategy of eating his weekend breakfast in the temple with his footwear on and how he would take them off only if he planned to go up to worship.

Despite the minor irritants mentioned above, I highly recommend a visit to the SVS Temple in Aurora for its clean and well maintained place of worship and a fine South Indian kitchen.

A visit to SVS temple is like a virtual trip to South Indian Temples, only cleaner and easier.©

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