Originating from India's Vedic culture, and recognised as not merely a cuisine but as a natural healing system and science of life (Ayur = life,Veda = science or knowledge), Ayurveda promotes body, mind and spirit balance and dynamism as part of its central concept, "providing guidelines on ideal daily and seasonal routines, diet, behavior and the proper use of our senses".
Mr. Jagmohan Swamidas Chandrani, one of the leading proponents spreading the word about Ayurveda cuisine in Japan, who is both the Chair of the Indian Community of Edogawa and proprietor of the famous Spice Magic Calcutta in Nishi Kasai, kindly gave us his time during the festival and explained to us a few things about Ayurveda, where it came from, some of the simple philosophies behind it, and where it is projected to go in the future as a cuisine and concept in Japan.
Following is an extract of the interview where Mr. Chandrani talks to JIMC about the basic concept of Ayurveda:
Can you tell us about what you are doing at Namaste today?
We are introducing Ayurvedic food in Japan for the first time ever. This is primarily to make people understand that Indian food has a history and it is also very healthy.
There are medicinal properties to Ayurvedic food, aren't there?
Yes. So with that, maybe there'll be a little more appreciation of the culture from where it comes.
Do you think recently there's been more of an interest in Southern Indian dining?
Yes, there has. There has because it's something new. The tandoori thing was introduced in 1970 at the Expo in Osaka. That's the first time we served it at a public event. And so it's been continuing from then. Of course, as you know, Southern Indian food is rice-based, so there is a commonality in taste and feel and in the digestion part, too. They seem to find it more interesting, yeah.
I'm from Britain, so I tend to eat very heavy curries. Lots of soup-based curries, lots of gravy. But I recently started to eat more Southern Indian cuisine, and you can eat a lot of it and it doesn't make you feel bloated. How does Ayurvedic food fit into that? Is it another level up?
It's the mother from where all Indian food evolves. This is something which was invented more than 4,500 years ago during the Indus Valley civilization. When we talk of 4,500, we expect it to be a very small thing. It wasn't. There are millions of people living in one place. So they realized that you have to have a preventive measures rather than trying to cure diseases, because people living together create disease. This is an evolution from that thinking, that by taking food which was properly made, and in a certain sequence or in certain seasons you eat certain things, they could come up with preventive food which would help you to survive better. That has evolved for 4,500 years in continuity. That's Ayurveda.
There's something magic about Indian food anyway. It's spiritual, magical, scientific. Is there a little bit of Ayurveda in all Indian food, do you think, the philosophy of it?
Yes, totally. All Indian food is the progeny of Ayurveda. Because a lot of food which we commonly eat today, which is not common to Europe and Asia, that came from South America. You take your tomatoes, you take your potatoes, you take your capsicums and your chilies. They were not there 400 years ago anywhere in Asia or Europe. But Ayurveda picked it up. We tested it and it came up as a part of Ayurvedic Indian food cuisine. How to use it, when to use it. So it has been assimilating throughout. The idea is that human beings, though they look the same - they have two eyes, two ears, a mouth and a nose and two hands and two feet - there are three different types. They have the proclivities in how they react to food. Based on that, the food has been classified. Then it's classified according to season.
Would you say it's almost prescribed food?
Yes, it is. But then, you see, what happens is that we have got three broad ranges, and within that you can find most of the people. Most of humanity would fit it. Accordingly, if you know your proclivity, you just select that. If I'm feeling a bit bloated, I'm a vata, so I will not eat this. I'll just eat this. This is the best part of Ayurveda. It's not only vegetarian, though typically vegetarian. But they don't say they don't eat fish or don't eat meat. It's not vegetarian or vegan in its precept. Anything that human beings can eat is included. Even fish is included, meat is included, game is included.
What's the next stage for Ayurveda in Japan? Are people getting more interested in it?
Yes. People are getting interested in it, and not only that. You see, today this society is aging. Today more than 23% of the Japanese are about 65. The precept or the concept under which this started was prevention is better than cure. Today a 65-year-old person would rather have this food and be healthy than get diseased and have to get medicines to recover. Though typically in Asia, there is this little understanding of each other. Even in India, we understand England more than we understand Japan, though Japan is a nearer country maybe. It's an Asiatic, Buddhist country. But if you talk to an average Indian, he would know more about England. The same to most Asian countries. They know more about Europe than they know about each other. So to bring in something from India, how much acceptance it will have and how much they will feel comfortable with it ... They will say, "Let somebody in Europe rarefy it", or sanctify it or whatever you may call it. Yes, but then times change. We think that, at least if being well is offered and it's empirical, they can eat it and feel it and then understand themselves, "Oh, this is good."
As soon as I saw the term "Ayurvedic" advertised, it immediately piqued my interest. How is it going today?
This is the first time ever in Japan, historically. Never, ever has this food been offered in a public event. And It's going well. You can see, people are here.
Could you recommend what to buy and how to eat it?
Yes. This food should be eaten in sequence. You do that if you have a course meal. You get some starters, you get a soup, and so on. We will give you an instruction sheet as to what to eat first and what to eat second. It is a totally balanced meal. Like when you're starting to eat, your intestine is still resting, so how do you tell your intestine, "Wake up, I'm going to eat"? You first take a bit of ginger. The ginger juices go in, intestine starts working. Then you eat something else that starts properly digesting it. Just dump it into it and it says, "Now you work on it."
I usually put rice in first.
It's not a bad thing, because rice is also carbohydrates. It's not so bad. It's better than protein. The best is that you start with ginger. It helps the intestines and starts working. Then you take soup, so that a light things goes in. Then you take in something else and then there's something else. It has got all the different tastes. As you know, there are five tastes and Japanese call it a sixth taste, umami. It has everything of that. You have the sour taste, you've got the bitter taste, you've got the sweet taste, and at the end you take fennel for digestion. We give you that, too.
Okay, I'm sold. I'm going to order three sets.
Oh, good. Okay.
Thank you ever so much for your time.
Not at all, not at all.