by Fabio Parasecoli
At first sight, it was just another vegetarian eatery in Bangalore, although better appointed and definitely more appealing than usual. Large groups and families, mostly in a festive mood, were enjoying a sprawling buffet dominated by a triumphant chocolate fountain, in the subdued and understated décor. Waiters in elegant grey suits quietly bussed tables and keep the food coming. Against the pleasurable background, the conversation unfolding among my table companions was curiously unsettling: I was being schooled on the meaning of the kali yuga, the era of cosmic decay and spiritual degeneration in the Vedic tradition, while savoring understated and sometimes startling vegetarian food. Apocalyptic reflections and attention to one’s physical and mental health seemed to go hand in hand at Sattvam, a restaurant that embraces sattvic food. The jet lag contributed to my sense of estrangement, having landed in India just a few hours before.
Of course, I needed guidance to understand what sattvic was about. Suresh Hinduja, one of the best-known food critics in town, who had taken me there with a friend, admitted that the food we were enjoying, subtle yet flavorful, actually would come across as unusual to many Indians as well. For the explanation of the principles behind it, he deferred to Arvind Chowdhary, one of the managing partners at Sattvam. Clearly, my knowledge of Indian religions and philosophies was showing its limits. The couple of courses on the topic I took in college, which in fact included the reading of the sacred text Bhagavad Gita, were not even remotely sufficient to understand the dishes that were being placed in front of me and I welcomed Arvind’s and Suresh’s guidance.
Many Indians—Hindus and Jains, the latter following stricter rules—practice vegetarianism for religious reasons and avoid meat, fish, eggs, and alcohol from their diets. Yes, eggs too are considered carriers of potential life and are for that reason taboo. Unlike in Western vegetarianism, dairy products, from yogurt to ghee (clarified butter) and paneer (the omnipresent fresh cheese) play a crucial role, differentiating Indian vegetarianism from Western veganism. However, Arvind clarified that the idea behind the restaurant is to bring sattvic food to an audience larger than the faithful few who may enjoy it at the temple where they meditate each morning.
Sattvic is one of the three categories that, in the Vedic tradition, define diet and contribute to an individual’s life style and attitude. Favoring spiritual clarity, sattvic foods differ from rajasic ones, which fire up passions and desires, and tamassic ones, which instead cause laziness and torpor. As spelled out on the restaurant’s website, “sattvic cialis price foods are rich and abundant in Prana, the universal life force. Onion, garlic and caffeine are taboo in a sattvic diet as they cause denseness in the body. According to the Vedas, sattvic foods are juicy, wholesome and pleasing to the heart, providing subtle nourishment for positive vitality. What makes sattvic food so unique and pleasurable is that all dishes are prepared and served fresh. Leftover food is never served or consumed. Hence sattvic foods have a very low probability of forming ama, or toxic build up in the body.”
Sounds familiar? Some might point out that this is a New-Age inflected reading of the Vedas. Despite the vastly different philosophical frameworks, I was hearing words and concepts that also pepper contemporary discussions among food enthusiasts in the West, and not only those familiar with Ayurvedic practices. Sattvic food needs to be fresh to ensure all its sustenance and, consequently, provisioning locally is not a choice, but a necessity. Organic, however, is not a priority due to the high price of that kind of produce. And although organic food is quickly growing in popularity, it is still appreciated by a relatively small segment of the public. The team members at Sattvam are also fully aware of modern nutritional science and, despite the abundant presence of ghee, the food they serve can be considered quite healthy within a Western nutritional framework, as it provides a balanced intake of carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins, and anti-oxidants. Such approach appeals to many among the Bangalore foodies, a growing community of food lovers who care about what they eat and carefully weigh quality, style, and value.
Although Sattvam’s buffet is more expensive than your run-of-the-mill vegetarian restaurant, it has enjoyed growing success. The plan is to attract patrons with tasty food and to explain why it is good for their bodies and spirituality after they have enjoyed their meals. The negotiations among business acumen, financial pressures, religious priorities, and the pleasures of the table provide a great window on the transformations taking place in the bustling, global city of Bangalore. At Sattvam, very modern concerns cohabit with a philosophy and a lifestyle whose principles were outlined a few millennia ago. I could not have had a better introduction to India.
Fabio Parasecoli is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of Food Studies at the School of Undergraduate Studies for The New School for Public Engagement. He also a Senior Editor of The Inquisitive Eater, and regular contributor to The Huffington Post.