Love for Ayurveda Food Stirs Kerala Melting Pot

In her book, Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India, Chicago-based independent food historian Colleen Taylor Sen documents the Indian food evolution. The book discusses the many aspects of Indian food and mentions the medicinal value of chewing paan. Sen talks about the health benefits of Indian food in an interview. She says, “The health benefits of food is a theme that runs through Indian culture. In Ayurveda, food is a panacea that both prevents and cures disease. The compendia of basic recipes compiled by the great Ayurvedic physicians are a major source of knowledge about ancient food.”

More and more visitors to India are chewing on the benefits of Ayurvedic food. In the cultural melting pot of Kerala cuisine, herbs and health are being stirred to cook Ayurvedic food for visitors from the different parts of the world, fervently. Kitchens in the state are revving up to meet the developing taste for Ayurvedic feasts.  Ayurvedic food, say experts mentioned here, is not only purely indigenous but is a relief for people whose food intake is controlled by Ayurveda doctors. What makes Ayurvedic food unique? Raveendran Narayanan Vaidyar, Santhigiri Ashram, Kerala, says, “It is tailor-made and customised in accordance with a patient’s requirement, but there is less dependence on oil, salt and sugar. Instead, there is a greater use of spices and herbs like pepper, cardamom, ginger, garlic, turmeric, mustard seeds, curry leaves and rock salt as well as fruits and vegetables.”   The seasoned tradition of vegetarian food providing fresh varieties of gourd, yellow pumpkin, drumsticks, beetroot and several other vegetables used extensively in the local kitchens makes Ayurvedic food indigenous. Stew, puttu and idiyappam can wait.

While the idea of vegan food is evolving at a ‘holistic happy hour, far away from Kerala, Travancore Heritage, another Kerala destination, sees visitors from Germany, Italy, France, Britain and Russia continuing their treatment through Ayurvedic food over the years. People coming to Kerala for detoxification and rejuvenation are opting for Ayurvedic food, which is primarily vegetarian and consists of ghee or clarified butter – an important ingredient, as per the experts, because it is considered a carrier of medicines. An expert says, “It (ghee) is a must for the treatment called snehapanam. During this treatment, ghee is administered for a period ranging from 7 to 21 days and the intake increases beginning from 25 ml to 300 ml. Foreigners also take ghee as it is part of the preparatory stage of ‘panchakarma’ or five-stage detoxification and rejuvenation programme. The treatment, as per an expert, varies from person to person, body types and related requirements and consists of food options that are not bland but deliciously prepared keeping in mind the correct combinations of ingredients.

According to S Vijayan, Santhigiri, Ayurvedic food is a good combination of gastronomical delight and wellness properties. He says, “It is wrong to suggest that Ayurvedic food is bland and insipid and is only a necessary part of the treatment.” He points out that the number of tourists trying to include Ayurvedic food in their Kerala experience is increasing –especially Americans, British, Germans, Russians and French. The temptation to drive away toxins from the body is huge.  He adds, “There is a ready acceptance for healthy Ayurvedic food among the foreigners who are calorie-conscious and tend to avoid fried, oily and greasy food. Ayurveda cuisine suit their palates.”