Slurrp Exclusive: Chef Diwaker Balodi Explains Spa Cuisine

The misconception that spa cuisine must be boring and bland is a thing of the past. Prepared to supplement spa treatments like detoxifying massages, spa cuisine is meant to be nutritious and also flavourful. 

Ananda In The Himalayas, a destination spa located a few kilometres away from Rishikesh, specialises in holistic healing and spa cuisine. With over 80 treatments on the spa menu, Ananda gets its Executive Chef Diwaker Balodi to create dishes that complement the various therapies that the place is known for. 

Armed with experience working with The Oberoi group of hotels in New Delhi and Mumbai and The Trident Cochin, Chef Balodi joined the Ananda team in 2015. Since then, he has brought his expertise in Indian and world cuisine to the spa resort. In his food, he uses fresh produce and Ayurvedic herbs sourced from the Ananda herb gardens. Chef Balodi works closely with the Ayurvedic physicians at the spa to create menus focused on wellness, customised to suit each guest. We chat with the chef to better understand spa cuisine and its place in India.

What exactly is spa cuisine?  

Spa cuisine aims to give its guests healthy balanced meals, full of flavour and nutrition. Experts know that health comes from within, and the importance of eating fresh, lean and seasonal meals to nurture the body. This is why most spas offer freshly cut fruit, green salads, lean meats as balanced meals focusing on good fats, quality protein, complex carbohydrates and light dressing/condiments on the side.  

In your experience, what perceptions do people have about spa cuisine? 

Many people presume that healthy food consists of green juices and salads, minute portions which may work for a day or two, but aren't sustainable for a week, leave alone for life.  

Most people are used to large portions of rich food, that fill them up easily and are full of flavour to tantalise the taste buds. And they come in expecting a stark opposite cuisine in the spa.   

Thankfully at Ananda, most people are happily surprised to see that healthy food can be delectable as well, and can be followed for life, back at home too.  

How is the spa cuisine at Ananda different from spa cuisine at other places? 

The spa cuisine at Ananda is based on the Ayurvedic concept of eating, which advises one to eat in moderation, as per one's' body type or 'dosha'. Ayurveda identifies every individual as unique, and gives directives on what to eat and avoid so as to maintain optimal health.  

Following these principles, we recognise that each individual is different in terms of their constitution and thus their nutritional needs also differ, so the food is customised for every guest based on their 'dosha', their health goals, the wellness programme that they are on at Ananda, along with any dietary restrictions/preferences that they have.  

What do you have to keep in mind when deciding on the menu? 

We have cyclical wellness menus that change daily, and as per season for individual guests. Few points that are kept in mind are: 

  • Objectives of programme 
  • Health goal of the guest 
  • Dosha/body type of guest 
  • Medical history of the guest to ascertain restrictions/Allergens 
  • Synchronisation with therapies like cleansing days or high activity days 
  • Taste and cuisine preferences of guest 

What other places in India do good spa cuisine, in your opinion?

I believe most spas have a clear understanding and execution of spa cuisine, which is customised to their wellness philosophy, be it Ayurvedic, naturopathy, Unani, homoeopathy etc. The similarities remain of offering food which is fresh, local and seasonal, high in protein, complex carbohydrates, with good fats, no artificial flavouring with smaller portions. While these are good benchmarks, to see sustainable changes the food needs to be customised fully to help a person realise their personal health goals.   

What do you think is the future of spa cuisine in India? 

Overall, the future is bright as more and more people are accepting that healthy food and the principles of eating as per our circadian rhythms is the way to be. Modern living encourages people to eat highly processed food which isn’t made fresh, and has high amount of artificial ingredients in it. And they don’t eat at ideal times, sometimes eating very late at night, consuming meals that are not balanced with poor nutritional value. No number of exercises/activities/therapies can balance out the ill effects of eating junk food and not following proper meal timings.  

But things are better than what they were a decade ago as people in India are investing in wellness travel more than before, learning what holistic health and wellness truly means; spending time not just in working out but working out a lifestyle that is more conducive to healthy living.  

We see guests leaning more towards eating home cooked meals, just like their grandmothers used to, focusing on their sleep, conscious of how they look and feel. Many people are also adopting popular eating trends like Vegan/gluten free/keto meals, doing intermittent fasting. It also means that wellness culinary experts keep abreast of these trends and learn about their scientific basis so as to guide our guests better.  

It is necessary for people to work with experts to understand what will work best for their bodies, and adopt that lifestyle, including eating habits, overtime.