Veni, vidi, ayurveda
If you think ayurvedic food sounds a bit bland, you’re not wrong. But, this hippie-dippy “healing food” isn’t as hippie as it might seem. Plus, unlike most flash-inthe-pan food fads, it does actually make you feel good.
Put simply, the point of ayurvedic eating is to balance the body’s energies through food to ensure health. Sounds a little woo-woo, right? If it helps, ayurveda has been around (and continually developing) for four or five thousand years.
So what does it taste like? To get the most bang for my buck and to make sure some things suited my palate, I went for Annapurna’s South Indian Sampler plate — an enormous dish designed to balance all three of my energies. The masala dosa, a light, thin, crepe-like bread filled with spicy vegetables, was the best part of the plate. The dosa itself lacked deep flavor but, soaked in the juices of the veggies, it became more appetizing every time I came back to it. A close second was the vadai, a fried-rice pancake loaded with spicy green onions. Fried food doesn’t scream out “healthy,” and the vadai was a little greasy, making it difficult to finish. It lingered a little heavy in the stomach.
The same was true of the samosas that my lunch companion based his meal on. The peas, carrots, and potatoes were spicy enough, but they were so bogged down with grease that we could only take a few bites. The sambhar soup (which came with the sampler plate), a mung bean and vegetable concoction, was flavorless.
Despite my taste buds’ disappointment, post-lunch I felt amazing. The chai may have added a little edge to my kick, but this was no caffeine buzz. The food left me feeling full but not stuffed, and had it not been snowing, I’m pretty sure I could have lapped Santa Fe on my bike in no time flat.
On a return trip, I ignored my dissatisfaction during the previous visit and decided to approach the meal in a completely different way. Instead of looking over the menu and picking items based on preconceived ideas about what I like to eat, I read each offering carefully, and when my body reacted positively to something I saw (yup, getting a little hippie again), I went for it. This time, the puri (fried bread) with a bowl of potatovegetable bhaji (curry) stood out. It was perfect. The thick, bright red broth of the bhaji soaked into the already flavorful puri and let loose a rolling cascade of spice. Whereas the previous dishes had a slightly more astringent and spicy aftertaste, this one burst wildly at just the right moment. Odd, I thought, for a dish that was meant to pacify my energy, but it did seem to make me submissive to its deliciousness.
My dinner date chose that old staple of Indian dining, saag paneer— creamy spinach with blocks of sturdy cheese. Unlike most saags out there, this one tasted alive with that acidic flavor that raw spinach often loses when it’s cooked. It was delicious and energizing, so much so that two seasoned, gluttonous eaters could barely put a dent in the bowl.
To complete our healthy pig-out we treated ourselves to a banana pakora— fried chickpea flour wrapped around banana quarters— and a cranberry ladu (sweet dumpling). Sadly, the banana pakoras are not available anymore, as they aren’t ayurvedic and shouldn’t have been made in the first place. Since we couldn’t eat them all, we left the contraband last piece (“ever!” according to our server) for the warrior goddess Durga, a framed depiction of whom presided over our table.
In the past, when I’ve made my own ladu, I’ve used ghee, so how Annapurna makes these guys vegan is beyond me. But one was not enough. I could easily put down a good dozen of these cranberry and sesameseed wonders.
As my friend put it, “This restaurant is so nonviolent they don’t even give you a knife!” True, there’s no need to slice through the forkable and spoonable food at Annapurna, and if you get in touch with your inner indigo child and listen to what your body craves, you won’t be disappointed with the peaceful pep the meal has to offer.