Zen Center's menu, created with nutrition in mind, changes regularly. Pictured are stuffed tomatoes. (Zen Center)
Zen monk Hwalson Sunim only has two rules for the food made at his Detroit Zen Center in Hamtramck.
“It must be organic and delicious,” says the center’s spiritual director, abbot and founder, who has been a monk for more than 40 years. “If it doesn’t taste good, we won’t serve it. I’ve never heard of anybody who doesn’t want their food to taste good.”
The nonprofit, which opened in Detroit in 1990 and moved to Hamtramck three years later, offers meditation and yoga, and runs an organic packaged food business. Last fall, the center started serving organic, vegan brunch Sundays in its cozy basement café. The public is also welcome to eat lunch with the Zen students and residents Tuesdays-Fridays as well. They ask that you call ahead when attending brunch or lunch.
“This is coming out of the need we perceive in the community for people to have access to foods that are going to help them achieve a happy life,” says Zen Center director and chef Myungju Sunim. “We believe if you eat organically and locally that you can do that and that can help you be a better person regardless of what your life choices are.”
The café is rustic, clean and warm, and can seat a few dozen. Diners can choose to sit at low tables on a raised, heated platform, or in traditional tables and chairs.
Food is cooked in an open kitchen, the same used to make the center’s line of Living Zen Organics food, which includes kale chips, fresh kale salad, raw granola, raw brownies and flax crackers. (Living Zen Organic products can be found at Eastern Market, Western Market in Ferndale, Honey Bee market in Detroit, Plum Markets and healthy food stores across Metro Detroit.)
The brunch menu changes regularly, but some courses may include portobello mushroom burgers, flax cracker pizza, sweet potato soup, vegan burrito and kale and quinoa salads. One very popular item, called mermaid soup, is made with Michigan lentils and mung beans and more than 20 different spices, herbs and vegetables.
“There are two types of seaweed in it, but the fishy flavor gets hidden. It’s good for the thyroid,” Myungju says.
All of the food served at the Zen Center’s café is intended to be good for the body in some way. Hwalson calls their food “nutritarian.”
“What that means is we attempt to eat the highest nutrition food, which automatically means you’re going to eat lower calories,” he says, adding that foods like mushrooms and green tea can lower the risk for cancer.
Sunday brunch is preceded by open meditation sessions at 9 a.m. in the beautifully sparse and traditional meditation hall. Yoga is also offered at 9:30 a.m. Saturdays.
“We get people from all walks of life and all religions or even non-religions that want to learn meditation from an experienced monk,” says Myungju. “The idea is meditation, yoga and learning how to eat. If you can learn how to do those three things, you can figure out your way in the world.
“We can’t help all the homeless people, we can’t help all the orphans in other countries. We’re limited as human beings as to what we can do, so we focus on helping the people who have the ability to help themselves so they can be leaders. In order to eat organically, you have to have time, money, and you have to be able to cook. We focus on giving people those resources.”
Detroit Zen Center Café
11464 Mitchell, Hamtramck
Call: (313) 366-7738
Hours: Sunday brunch by reservation 11 a.m.-1 p.m. except the last Sunday of the month. Lunch service, also by reservation, is available noon-1 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.
Prices: Suggested donation for brunch is $15, $10-12
Cash, check or paypal
Noise level: Low
Parking: Street parking
Wheelchair access: No. There’s a small flight of stairs