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.
I dedicate this blog to my parents. Naturally, they’d be delighted if I lived close enough to come for Sunday lunch each week and had the perceived security of a salary or a house of my own but when they receive a postcard in the middle of an English winter from the palm fringed shores of Sri Lanka or open an email detailing my dream of following ancient spice routes through the Middle East or have to ask yet again for a reliable postal address, they’re excited to know that they are responsible.
The essence of my life overseas, the feeling that drove me to set sail, is captured in the following vignette:
Hi Tom, as promised my recollections of the Far Out Café. 1978 myself and four friends take the magic bus from London to Athens. First boat out from Pireaus is bound for Mykonos so we jump aboard and soon after arriving we hear of another island called Ios. So next stop Ios. There was one road from the port to the beach and there were two buses, that was the transport. The beach was long and wonderful and the place where the bus dropped us and other backpackers was the Far Out Café. The place was, it seemed, always full of people from all over like a young United Nations. The food was like any Greek café and I love traditional Greek food as you know but I must say the fare at the Far Out Cafe was never going to win any awards! However it had a great sound system and the one album that stands out for me was ‘Stranger In Town’ by Bob Seager and the Silver Bullit Band. It had been released in May of that year and went on to go platinum. If we were on the beach around the cafe and the first bars of ‘Hollywood Nights’ (the first track of the album) played it was enough to get us in to the place and order a round of beers and start conversations with people we had met or those we had not and who were just enjoying the music like ourselves. For others I’m sure other music will be associated with the Far Out but for me Strangers in Town and the café will always be joined at the hip.
I looked online and as with most things the Far Out has changed; it’s no longer where the bus would drop you. There’s a new Far Out at the other end of the beach where all there used to be was a camp site. Of course, its unrecognisable to the place I and many others would have known but that was then and this is now but for me the Far Out Café I know and cherish will always be the best of places. Ios has another claim to fame as it’s where I met your mum but that’s another story.
Speak to you soon Tom all my love Dad x
That is brilliant, cant believe this is almost 40 years ago, still so vivid in my mind! Perhaps I’ll tell you my story too! Mum x