Two tall millennial men walked into the restaurant recently, looking very serious and focused. Well, actually they charged into the restaurant, clearly in a rush, and the air around them was thick with tension. It could have been a disagreement on a new product design, a dispute about the strategy of their startup, or the vetting of a new algorithm. Between scrolling and tapping madly at their phones, they talked in rapid, hushed tones.
When their lunch arrived—Chicken Dum Korma with rice and roti—they reluctantly put down their phones. But a few bites in, they both fell silent. They weren’t talking, they weren’t texting—they were just eating.
In a fast-paced, high-tech city like San Francisco, it is definitely normal to eat breakfast while rushing to work, lunch while glued to your phone, and take-out dinner alone while stuck in traffic during rush hour. But this style of eating is mindless and doesn’t really satiate the senses or the mind. We believe that complete nourishment relies on eating mindfully, engaging the senses, and sharing meals with others.
How We Eat is as Important as What We Eat
In India, mealtimes are a peaceful escape and a sacred pause that encourage people to move out of their busy minds and be present in their bodies—much like a good Yoga practice. Ayurveda, the traditional Indian mind-body medicine, believes that being mindful when eating is necessary in order to get the food’s full nutritional benefits. “Agni” is the term for digestive fire, and good digestion requires that this fire is stoked by a relaxed, focused state during mealtimes. It’s just a much healthier way to eat. In a recent “study, published in the journal Appetite, researchers found that people who ate lunch while watching TV or playing games on a computer ended up snacking more later compared to participants who were attentive and mindful about their meal.”
Diners also owe it to the cook to give the food their full attention when eating, as cooking Indian food is a complex, time-consuming, and labor-intensive art. I remember the hours my mother would spend making vegetable biryani, for example, a seemingly simple dish of spiced rice and vegetables that actually requires a lot of time and effort for the chef.
First, she would cook the basmati in aromatic spices and then fry the vegetables with turmeric, salt, and a little cumin to perfect tenderness. Next, she made a vegetable gravy, and finally layered the rice, vegetables, and gravy with fresh herbs in a tightly lidded pot. The dish would steam slowly until all the flavors mingled together.
No shortcuts were taken, for food made quickly and mindlessly is also eaten quickly and mindlessly. And while total attention on your food may not be possible for every meal, I really believe that mindful eating gives the mind, body, and spirit the complete nourishment they so badly need.
A Treat for the Senses
Indian food wasn’t made to be consumed mindlessly, and its very nature makes it nearly impossible to be. Because of its bold flavors, vivid colors, and tantalizing aromas, you really have no choice but to set aside your woes and dive into the sensory world.
Eating chana masala dosa with coconut chutney, for example, is a multi-sensory experience. Indian food is meant to be eaten with your hands, tearing the thin rice and lentil flour crepe, or using a puff wheat-based poori as an edible utensil to scoop up the saucy chickpea filling and bring it all to your mouth. This sort of meal is all-consuming and doesn’t really allow for multi-tasking.
In the Western world, healthy food is associated with bland food, and a meal that is lacking in flavor is looked on as dissatisfying. But Indian food has both flavor and nutritional value, and by engaging all the senses, it deeply satiates hunger.
Eating in Good Company
Food shared with others is more fulfilling than food eaten alone. In India, it is very uncommon to eat a meal by oneself. At the end of a long day, families and friends come together to share a home-cooked, family-style meal. They have long conversations while passing dishes around the table and decompressing in the warmth of each other’s company. This connection made over a good meal strengthens familial bonds and friendships.
Indian culture places great value on having guests over for meals and treating them with special care. “Atithi Devo Bhava” is a common Sanskrit saying that means, “The guest is truly your God.” It is just as important to make guests feel welcome and at home as it is to serve them delicious food. Dining in the presence of guests is valued, honored, and celebrated.
In a world where the physical presence of others is quickly being replaced with text messaging, email, and video chat, it is all too common for people to eat alone. Whether it’s eating a quick breakfast solo before work or sitting alone in an office having lunch, it’s becoming more and more rare for eating to be a communal activity. To maintain deep, meaningful relationships, even the busiest of people should make a point of connecting with others over meals.
It’s a rewarding thing to get to watch, day after day, the transformations people go through when they sit down to an Indian meal.
When those two millennials finally (and reluctantly) left, they seemed changed in some way. No, the calm probably wouldn’t last. The stresses and challenges of their day would come creeping in once again as they settled into their offices. Tensions would return. But at least they managed to escape from their busy lives for a rejuvenating pause, a complete sensory experience, and good company. And we can only hope that their experience made it a little bit easier to dive back into the day.
Yes, life is crazy, busy, and stressful. But taking the time to make the simple things sacred is what makes life beautiful. Visit DOSA on Fillmore or Valencia to escape the stress of your busy life with innovative Indian cuisine and a relaxing atmosphere.