I never really used to like stepping too far outside my comfort zone, but since starting university I have found that I have very little choice in the matter.
Amongst meeting new people and trying different courses, one of the most exciting “new things” I have experienced is the food on the upper campus of the University of Cape Town. Most is disappointing, granted. But one particular food stand has become a constant favourite. It goes by the name of “Higher Taste Cuisine” and follows the same recipe book as the Hare Krishna Cafe right up my road. Seeing this as an opportunity not to be missed, I dropped in to the latter, Govinda’s Pure Vegetarian Cafe for a visit and a chat about their philosophy relating food.
I sat down with Ragalekha Dasi, who kindly agreed to chat to me about her journey to the Hare Krishna life style. She described it to me saying: “This food is all about love and goodness. It’s cooked and prepared with love … It’s soul food.”
She explained that this food is prepared completely as an embodiment of love and without suffering. If one were to picture a mother cooking for her child, that food is a manifestation of her love. It is almost as if “love” is an ingredient that goes into the food, a most vital ingredient required for every dish.
It is very easy to get completely distracted with the convoluted complications of our lives and our minds, and food tends to become a mere after-thought, or worse, a punishment. I’ve certainly spent many hours picking apart fat contents and carbohydrate contents, forgetting about the point of it all: nourishment. And even nourishment doesn’t really cut it when it comes to ticking the boxes for the Hare Krishna food. Ragalekha phrased it: “Food is not just gratification and nourishment, it brings peace to a person.”
Eating a delicious and wholesome meal that has been cooked by somebody who loves you (bonus points if that person is yourself), brings comfort, warmth, and a certain feeling of being cared for. It’s a critical condition for human development, in my opinion, and I’m sure the opinion of many others. We are more productive when we are looked after and loved, and food is the perfect conduit.
I did have another motive in going up the road for a visit to Govinda’s. I wanted to try and rustle up a Hare Krishna meal for myself and wondered if there may be any tips I could yield from Ragalekha, anything that would allow me to be half-way successful in my venture. She explained to me the process that goes into cooking this food and I was surprised to find it rather specific.
The chef must bathe before preparing the meal so as to be completely clean. I would need to tie up my hair and would not be permitted to sneeze, or cough during the preparation of the meal – this would be spoiling it before sanctification. The last rule was the one I’m afraid I did not manage to adhere to in the making of my meal: one is not allowed to taste the food whilst cooking, as this, too, would spoil the meal. I am a taster and a tryer at heart, but this cooking requires more planning than I am known to do.
Ragalekha explained, “more than just the recipe, preparation before hand, a consciousness, it must be cooked peacefully. And it’s for pleasure.”
I asked what parts of the flavour-spectrum Ragalekha would say feature in this cuisine. She replied that although it seems very influenced by Indian flavours, particularly South-West Indian, featuring cumin, tumeric and mustard seeds, it also involves Mediterranean flavours such as nutmeg and dill. She admits to disliking the food on her first introduction to it, but now it is her staple.
With all this information in mind I skipped home, feeling well-equipped to try my hand. I decided on doing my take on my favourite campus lunch: a tub of goodness including: rice, mashed butternut and potatoes, lentils and (the creme de la creme) cabbage balls. I surprised myself in enjoying this dish the first time I tasted it, as I mentioned before, it was wildly outside my comfort zone. But I did enjoy it, and I do to this day.
I also enjoyed the meal I prepared, although it didn’t quite taste the same. Have a squiz at the video below to see how I managed in this escapade:
Food is the most useful resource we have in bringing people together. The creation of it is enriching if it goes well, and a learning-experience when it doesn’t (no matter how often it doesn’t). When we use care in the process of cooking and eating, we can taste it.
It’s wholesome and nurturing.
It’s an expression of love. Love for others, yes, but particularly love for ourselves.