All health aside, Christmas in an Ashram may not be everyone’s cup of tea, as Katy Fentress found out during a recent trip to Sri Lanka
I take a sip of my herbal tea and it takes every iota of my willpower not to spit it out.
“You have got to be kidding!” I mutter loudly. The boyfriend looks at me, trying to suppress a giggle before bringing his own cup to his lips. I can tell by the way he screws up his face that for him too, the steaming garlic tea really takes the proverbial biscuit.
In any other situation I could have drunk it. Seriously, I am not averse to the odd weird tasting brew if it is accompanied by amazing health benefits. And we all know how good garlic is supposed to be for you. The thing is that it is Christmas day and, though by all accounts and purposes it is me that signed us up to go to a Sri Lankan Ayurvedic ashram for this most holy and gluttonous of Christian holidays, I just expected something that was a little bit more friendly on the tastebuds to wash down my vegan Christmas meal.
You see when, back in November, I excitedly booked us into an ashram for Christmas, I was wishfully hoping that I would be pregnant. It seemed like a great way to avoid booze envy to just cut out all suggestions of alcohol. Unfortunately, though, I had forgotten to factor in how I would feel if I wasn’t pregnant. Which I am most definitely not. Now, after a booze and meat-free Christmas meal, with the closest thing to a fruitcake having been a Hopper—a Sri Lankan coconut pancake cooked in a small wok, I am desperately trying to look on the bright side to avoid admitting I was wrong to my other half.
Of course there is a huge bright side. I flick through an article on my phone which describes what people’s average Christmas dinner would look like if they stuck to the calorie recommendations made by nutritional experts and feel quite smug at the thought that I will not have to spend January desperately trying to lose the kilos I gained over the course of a couple days in December. But then I remember that at that moment, my family in the States is probably eating some delicious Eggs Benedict and my victory feels short lived. Surely the benefits of spending time with your loved ones that live overseas, vastly outweigh the tightened waistbands at the end of the holiday? But then again if I had been pregnant, I reason, I would have had to watch them as they knocked back Bellinis and Bloody Marys and surely that would have been a worse torture than one little sip of foul garlic tea?
Although this is not an escapade I am totally excited to repeat again in the near future, it must be said that as an experience it is not entirely negative. The ashram’s buffet is served on clay burners out of delightful red clay pots, the content of which our charming host carefully describes. For Christmas there is banana flower curry, which tastes of nothing much, there is a mushroom soup which tastes a million times better than the green gloop we were served the previous day (which I charitably described it as “moss soup”), there are pulses, brown rice and perhaps my favourite part, the salads and sambols, Sri Lankan fresh chutneys which have more flavour than all the other dishes combined.
When I tell my friends on my foodie WhatsApp group about what we are eating, they all agree that I should have known in advance that Ayurvedic food is not famous for being super flavoursome and what the hell was I thinking forcing us to go there?
Sigh, they aren’t wrong, what was I thinking? Even the two hour Ayurvedic massage earlier that day, which consisted mainly in lots of oil being rubbed over me and then a weird pot of warm oil poured over my head for forty minutes that left me with little more than a painful crick in my neck, are not enough to kickstart the zen in me.
Now as I enter two booze-free beginning of the year months (trying to get pregnant can be ever so much of a drag), I can’t help but wonder if it was really worth it being so virtuous? But then again, maybe I’ll change my mind when I see all my hungover and overindulged friends slowly trickle home after their alcohol and calorieladen holidays.