My India odyssey begins with a humble cup of Ayurvedic coffee as I ease my way into the subcontinent via très shanti Varkala. A couple that I met in Sri Lanka, on the tourist-heavy beach of Hikkaduwa no less, said with that all too familiar air of someone who knows India better than you ever could, “you’re going to Kerala? Pfft, it’s not real India and Varkala isn’t even real Kerala, ha!”. I pointed them in the direction of this terrific Huffington Post article by David Sze and didn’t hear from them again. So, this extraordinary cuppa. Organic coffee from the Western Ghats (the proprietor was swift to remind me “we do not use Nescafe sir”) is blended with the cafe’s own organic sun-dried masala (or spice blend), consisting of cardamom, cinnamon, tulsi, ginger and mint. The result is, well I’ve never tasted anything like it. Initially the spiciness of the ginger engulfs you, then it’s slightly sweet as the cinnamon reveals itself, then savoury, earthy, not overpowering; a perfect balance of flavour. In Ayurvedic terms this is known as rasa, or harmony of flavours. It tastes to me like a journey, a cultural masala if you will.
Ayurveda is very much in vogue, which unfortunately means all and sundry are ‘into it’ but know very little about it. What I do know from my limited research over the last year is the fundamental principle of balance, an equilibrium of the three cosmic forces, or tridosha. Nutritionally speaking, coffee is considered one of the rajasic foods along with things like spices and tea, which stimulate and excite the body and mind. These aren’t outlawed, simply enjoyed in moderation, which makes perfect sense. For someone seeking balance at least. This first sip of Kerala reinforced my desire to learn as much as possible about the ancient tradition of Ayurveda through my own experiences, a world away from expensive ‘wellness retreats’ and Westernised cosmetics. Kerala and the Malayalam people may not be “full power shitting in the street India” as my Hikkaduwa friends put it but it is the heart of this fascinating life science, which is a pretty ‘authentic’ insight into this diverse continent. The world in that glass represents the purpose of this adventure, that is to say, The Story Beyond The Plate.