“India was much hotter and the food would soon go bad,” explained the proprietor. “The year? 1526. The solution? Spice it up!” Gayathri Chelvadurai, co-owner of this little express Indian restaurant, had come out to visit our table as we were concluding our meal. “It has been scientifically proven that spices prevent our food from spoilage, and therefore north Indian foods tend to be so spicy” and a bit greasy, she notes. She was enthusiastically sharing an impromptu history lesson on Indian cuisine. And we were eating it up.
The history lesson was soon accompanied by her famous hot chai, which had sold out earlier that evening. She had overheard us attempting to order it and now insisted she make a fresh batch, and on the house. As the chai came together — composed of seven spices and having required four months to initially perfect — we gladly ingested more of the chef-owner’s culinary anthropology.
It was the 16th century and the emperor of the Mughal Empire who discovered that the primary water source, the river Yamuna, was being polluted on its journey between Agra (the de facto capital) to the capital in Delhi. Being a benevolent ruler, the emperor consulted with local doctors on how to prevent the food related illnesses.
“Bacteria and food-borne pathogens cannot survive in a hot environment, which is provided by spices,” Chelvadurai explained. “So, in order to prevent the food from waterborne pathogens and bacteria, excessive oil (to flush food through the digestive system) and spices had to be used.”
So there you go. Modern (north) Indian cuisine was born: spicy and oily. Not exactly the picture of healthy food, yet it’s what we’ve grown accustomed to. Nonetheless, this now common form of Indian food is not what Chelvadurai offers at her Indus Modern Kitchen.
“Healthy cuisine was my dream,” she recounted. “As I experienced life and grew (in the hospitality industry) I realized that serving and creating food is not just about food education, science and history, but most importantly about love and care of the human body — the body that has been created by God. After all, food is the best medicine for our bodies.”
This is the gospel that Chelvadurai is promulgating to all her customers. Change your diet; change your life. And she would know.
Due to medical complications with the delivery of her first child, Chelvadurai became the victim of a brain injury that eventually left her unable to speak or walk. “I lost control of the whole left side of my body. It all shut down, including my face muscles.”
For five long years, the doctors were befuddled and unable to think outside the box. Eventually, Chelvadurai was able to find doctors who were willing to listen well and work with her. “I changed my diet and learned about spices, herbs, meditation, breathing, yoga, Jin Shin Jyutsu (a form of acupressure treatment) and brain therapy.”
Today, while Chelvadurai continues to undergo weekly therapy, she is two years deep into her healthy Indian food venture. And her customers could not be happier.
Unsurprisingly, Indus eschews the use of all false ingredients like hormones and antibiotics, food coloring and MSG, while even going so far as to offer a myriad of menu items that are vegan or gluten-free, or sugar-free, items low in oil, or cream, or sodium. It’s a unique yet historical take of Indian food, boldly stepping all the way back in history, before befouled water spurred aristocratic intervention, and congruently stepping into a bright future of the cuisine where both flavor and patrons’ wellbeing are equally valued.