Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Pure and Spiritual Way of Life

I'm playing blog catch up... bear with me! :) This blog post was featured in the travel section of The Spirituality Daily on the 8th Dec 2011.

I adore an Indian meal. I’m a lover of the spices and aromas tickling and tantalising my taste buds – from scoffing my face with that cheeky weekend takeaway to a more civilised date at a stylish restaurant. I can’t get enough of mopping up a good sauce with a bit of naan, chapatti or roti. I’m getting a bit more familiar with regional dishes, rather than just knowing that a dish comes from the ginormous country that is India. I’m certainly no expert, but I’m learning and excited by it all! I want to try every kind of food this country has to offer.

I visited India for a friend’s wedding earlier this month, in the spiritual town of Rishikesh in the Uttarakhand state. Non-vegetarian foods and alcohol are strictly permitted in this area. I've been brought up to become quite a carnivore, although I've been more mindful of it in recent years for general health reasons. So, in a way, I was looking forward to a few days of vegetarianism and spiritual well-being!

The Sivananda Ashram is home to the Divine Life Society - encouraging one to refresh themselves spiritually through all aspects of life. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in a dining hall – canteen style – for all members of the Ashram and visitors. Everyone at the Ashram dines together and at the same times every day. There is a real sense of community and belonging here.

My first meal here is on the day we arrive. I’m invited up to see my friend and her family and to enjoy some lunch. I’m very used to rich Indian foods; bags of flavour contributing to a big wholesome meal. So to my surprise, the food here is nothing like that. Many of the dishes have a lot of sauce, but they are very light – notably with the flavours of Indian spices, but very mild. Like anything buffet style or new, I like to try a bit of everything. So here you see me trying a bit of everything below.

On my plate:

  • A spicy broth with vegetables
  • A chapatti, which turned out to be quite greasy
  • Some poppadum's – "true poppadum's" as my friend called them – and they were very good!
  • Some tomato chutney which was very yummy
  • A mix of some other vegetables which seemed to have been boiled with some spices
  • A rice, coconut and yogurt mix – I was told that it was very good for you and is very cooling for a warm day. To me, it tasted like feet :/

We were also serviced some fresh naan in a basket, which was more flat than the usual naan’s that I’ve had. But lovely to have freshly made bread with my meal!

I found out that foods in the Ashram are prepared without any ingredients deemed to be an aphrodisiac or known to cause aggressiveness to the mind. So this cuts out some of my most used ingredients at home – garlic and onion.

I also had breakfast here and again, tried a bit of everything.

  • In the left bowl, there is some kheerm which I’ve never seen nor tried before. It’s very sweet, not really to my taste but interesting. It’s roasted vermicelli in a sweet milk dessert.
  • Some Indian broth which is very similar to what I’d had for lunch on another day. The broth seems to be a popular dish served each day and at each meal. The flavour varies but it is generally quite similar.
  • Some white round sponge-like idlis which I am told that I should dip into my broth as it’s not very flavoursome. Apparently, it’s a very common breakfast in South India
  • Papaya – yummy! I adore papaya and it’s so lovely to have fresh and ripe papaya so readily available

I was slightly (more like very) disappointed to find that mangoes were not in season. The mangoes we get in supermarkets are just not as sweet and ripe as can be! The mangoes imported from Pakistan that they sometimes have in Chinatown, and ones from Southall or Tooting are always so juicy and full of flavour. I was hoping to try some fresh and ripe from its native country, but it’s not to be.

So my first tastes of Indian food are certainly not what I expected and I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped but a new experience indeed! I do go on to find amazing food so watch this space!

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