Mira Manek talks food and philosophy

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Mira Manek food writer

In a world so fast paced it's impossible to keep up, we all need ways to stay grounded. Often it’s the small, everyday rituals that keep us feeling whole and author Mīra Manek knows this better than most.

Mīra, who now lives in London, has seen some major change in her life over the past few years. She had lived in Dubai, Uganda and India and, as a travel journalist, was flitting all over the world. She describes it as a very unsettled time. She says: “To be honest I enjoyed a lot of it, but it went from feeling entirely exciting to feeling unsettling. I enjoy a nomadic lifestyle, but after five or six years it got to the stage where I didn’t know where home was and my marriage broke down as a result.”

Mīra is now a successful cookery writer. Her first book, Saffron Soul, is a collection of modern and traditional vegetarian recipes rooted in her Gujarati heritage and interspersed with family stories. It has provento be a huge hit with those looking for modern, healthy, plant-based Indian dishes.

Her food journey began when her marriage ended and she moved back to London. She describes the transition as “a very lonely time”. Changing city and going through a complex and lengthy divorce would be difficult for anyone but, she says, “writing about food and wellbeing began as a result of everything that happened to me and this book is a culmination of that”.Mira Manek

She is busy by anyone's standards. Last year she launched Chai by Mīr, a cafe, chai lounge and event space at Triyoga Soho, inside Kingly Court, Carnaby. Her chai spice mix is used by various cafés and restaurants in London and she has also worked with restaurants on shaping their menus.

Food and philosophy go hand in hand for Mīra, which fits well with the supper clubs, workshops and retreats she holds in London and globally. It also underpins her brand new book, Prajna: Ayurvedic Rituals for Happiness.

“I didn’t know I was going to do this book after Saffron Soul,” she says. “My journey has been very fluid and there have been lots of surprises for me along the way.”

Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest healing systems, rooted in the principle of a mind-body-spirit connection that is more relevant than ever to our busy modern lives. This new book extracts the essence of the Indian philosophy and provides a wealth of timeless rituals to effect positive change.

Mīra’s timing is perfect. The wellbeing trend is all around us and we care more than ever about what we eat. But it’s more than that – we’re also looking for something deeper.

“People are starting to feel that what western medicine is missing is that mind/body connection,” Mīra says. “We’re speaking about that connection a lot more now and people are understanding and realising that the gut-brain axis or the mind body connection affect our wellness, mental health and clarity of thought. That has become such a hot topic now.”

Holistic is a word we hear too often, but it applies perfectly to Mīra’s new book, which covers calming and restorative rituals and philosophy.

Mīra lives according to the principles in her book. It’s something that comes naturally to her as the traditions were rooted in her childhood. 

“As a child it was just something my parents did,” she says. “These things are ingrained in the way Indians do things and have been carried through generations for reasons that my mother may not even have known.

For example, I’ve been using a tongue scraper since I learned to brush my teeth, but I didn’t do it because it was Ayurvedic; I used it because I was taught to use it and it felt very odd not to once I had started using it. I live those things but it wasn’t until later in life I understood the reasons.”

It’s these rituals and routines – as well as good home-cooked food – that held Mīra in good stead when her personal life became turbulent, but she also needed a good dose of wisdom to help her through.

“The reason I brought philosophy in, rather than just sticking to Ayurveda, is because when it comes to tough times these rituals are embedded in practices people use in India. What's helped me go through the tougher times is my understanding of life philosophy from my travels in India and gaining an understanding of Indian spiritual life.

“Understanding the Indian philosophy on the journey of the soul through the passages of life has really helped. You take the world to be reality but you’re taught to understand there’s a lot of non-reality about it too. I try to summarise these concepts and explain why these philosophies go hand in hand with wellbeing.

“Food is one of the key elements of wellbeing. For me, food was the way into finding my health again because I sort of lost my way. I thought I was being healthy by going with all these fads, such as low-fat yoghurts, granola bars and rice cakes when I was in my teens and early 20s.

Mira Minek“I thought I was doing something healthy but in reality I was making my digestive system so much worse. I had a very sporadic way of eating and not really eating real food – just ready-made stuff and snacks that I carried around with me. It really ruined my digestion.

“At the heart of Ayurveda is agni, which literally translated from Sanskrit means ‘digestive fire’. We need to work in accordance with nature and what nature has given us, whether that’s the food we choose, eating times or trying not to eat between meals. All that is so important to health and wellbeing. If you don’t feel good in your stomach or right in your body, your mental health will be affected.”

Preparing and cooking food well is a central pillar of Ayurveda and this kind of cooking is perfectly suited to the AGA. Mīra says: “I have cooked with an AGA. They are wonderful. I run a retreat in a beautiful place in Oxfordshire and there’s an AGA there It’s been amazing using it. They keep it on for us the whole time we’re there and there’s something cosy and elemental about it.

“It cooks brilliantly. The way the spices get infused into the food and the way it slowly cooks vegetables. I’m not a meat eater, but even the way it cooks vegetables has been so wonderful to experience. I’d love to have an AGA especially having used one so many times now.”

Prajna: Ayurvedic Rituals for  Happiness contains a whole host of delicious plant-based recipes, all of which are designed to bring balance and wellness. Now the book is out Mīra is taking some time for herself and will be following all the advice she gives her readers. From starting the day well, to smiling and being grateful, from oil pulling to breathwork and massage, and from eating well to preparing properly for sleep, these are, she says, the principles on which to build a happy and healthy life.