A taste of India

Ancient philosophies are at the heart of Shreyas Retreat near Bangalore. After trying the lodge's new cookery course, Olivia Greenway feels the benefits

The weekly market at Nelamangala, 30km north-east of Bangalore, is bustling. The main road is choked with slow-moving traffic, each vehicle repeatedly beeping its horn and throwing up clouds of yellow dust. Next to a low wall, fortune-tellers sit with their packs of cards and green parrots. To one side, a rough patchwork of coloured plastic awnings keeps off the worst of the Indian sun. Underneath, stallholders sit cross-legged on the bare earth behind the small mountains of their wares.

Squeezing myself between the noisy crowds of buyers, I see row after row of produce: tidy pyramids of brown elephant-foot yams, fat round pumpkins, fragrant guava, blush-pink pomegranate and bright green papaya.

From the bustle I head back to my base: Shreyas, a small lodge an hour's drive from Bangalore airport. At 3,000ft above sea level, and almost in the middle of southern India, Bangalore does not suffer the searing heat of lower-lying parts of the country. Shreyas is a dazzling retreat, best known for its yoga. However, I am here to sample the lodge's brand new "Culinary Experiences" package. Over the course of a week, I've been promised 10 cookery classes, each lasting 90 minutes, where I'll learn to make 40 dishes – and be immersed in Ayurvedic food philosophy.

Ayurvedic principles suggest that ailments derive from eating the wrong stuff, particularly processed foods, and drinking alcohol and carbonated drinks. Many foods, including meat, refined flour and white sugar, should be shunned, and we should eat more vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices. The visit to Nelamangala market introduced the fresh, local produce that forms the basis of this cuisine.

My home for the week is one of eight tented luxury cottages set in a former coconut plantation now enhanced with flower-filled gardens and curving paths. There's an open-air yoga hall; a spa with open treatment rooms; a library, and a dining area,with large windows overlooking a grassy spot where evening meals are eaten al fresco. At the heart of the resort is an infinity pool.

In the immaculate teaching kitchen, classes are small. The focus is on simple, home-cooked food. My teacher is Rame, who also accompanied me to the market. He started here as executive chef when Shreyas first opened and is responsible for its reputation for gourmet vegetarian food. We will be cooking dishes from the south, including idli (fluffy rice cakes served at breakfast), sambar (the spicy sauce) and masala dosa (crisp, savoury pancakes, usually stuffed with potato). Spices play an important role. "Stick to seven of the most popular ones, and keep them for only six months," Rame tells me. "Don't have lots of spices you hardly ever use."

Our morning classes are hands-on, while the afternoons are spent observing the experts. We use little oil, no eggs and just occasionally some yoghurt or paneer (unsalted white cheese).

The cooking is uncomplicated and we don't use any fancy equipment. Quite often we use our hands. I'm shown how to make lentil rissoles by using the inside of one palm to persuade the mixture into a teardrop shape.

In each session we make four items and taste them afterwards. On the first day, we learn about knife-sharpening and chopping, an important lesson to master, since all the food is made from scratch. Vinod, the assistant chef, reduces a bunch of coriander to a finely chopped pile in nano-seconds.

Rajan, the executive chef, is my teacher on the other days. With his help, I whip up a spicy tomato shorba soup, a spinach and paneer masala, stuffed potato paratha and scrambled tofu with peppers. We dry-roast sesame seeds to go into spinach soup, roast corn over a flame to transform it into burnt corn salad, grate carrots to make sweet halva and soak basmati rice to prepare biryani.

On some mornings, I find myself in the open-air yoga studio at 6.30am, cross-legged on my mat waiting for the sun to rise. Occasionally, I try breathing lessons, meditation and chanting.

I also visit the organic gardens where I help to ease up onions, the rich, red earth clinging to my hands; and pick chikoo, which tastes like toffee apple, from a tree. I'm shown aloe vera plants that we use to make a refreshing drink and the shady greenhouse where the houseplants and flowers are grown.

At the end of the week, I'm hooked on the Ayurvedic approach to cooking. Instead of feeling deprived, I am energised. And rather than forget everything once I'm home, I've already prepared two dishes – and my knife skills are improving, too.

Travel essentials

Getting there

The writer flew from Heathrow to Bangalore with British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com). Returns start at £666.

 

Staying there

Shreyas Retreat (00 91 80 2773 7102; shreyasretreat.com) offers the seven-night Culinary Experiences package from $2,095pp (£1,397), including transfers, full board, yoga meditation and cookery sessions.

 

More information

British passport-holders require visas (in.vfsglobal.co.uk).

India Tourist Board: 020-7437 3677; incredibleindia.org.

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne celebrates after salvaging a point with the Southampton equaliser
footballAston Villa vs Southampton report
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Out and about: for 'Glee' character Bert Hummel, having a gay son was a learning curve
lifeEven 'cool' parents need help parenting gay teens
News
peopleJack Monroe accuses David Cameron of 'misty-eyed rhetoric'
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Group Financial Controller

    £50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible