We asked five food-loving yogis to share their most memorable meals and the secret ingredients that make them truly meaningful.
Yoga has the power to transform many aspects of your life, including your food choices. It may lead you to look at what you eat in a new light or to notice how different foods affect your energy level and your health. Practicing yoga also has a way of nurturing a broader awareness of the ethical and environmental implications of the foods you choose in the grocery store or at restaurants. And there are other, unquantifiable ingredients that go into the yoga diet—among them passion, nostalgia, and sheer pleasure. These feelings are elicited by senses beyond just taste: the smell of a simmering red sauce, the crackling of a perfectly baked baguette, the melting of delicate cookies in your mouth, even the warming ritual of blessing a meal before it’s served. And the simple act of being mindful and present in these culinary sensations makes them all the more joyful and celebratory.
To help inspire you to indulge in foods that make you feel truly good, we asked food-loving yoga teachers, kirtan artists, and health-conscious chefs to share their food philosophy and to recall the best food they ever ate. Their answers might surprise you: Yogis eat from all across the spectrum, from caring omnivores and flexitarians to vegans, raw foodies, and gluten-free eaters. The bottom line is that there is no single “yoga diet,” yet there are all sorts of wonderful ways to feed the soul.
The closer to nature my food is, the better, so I can experience prana (life force). When I’m on the road, I might compromise, but there’s a part of me that knows it’s not right.
Most memorable meal: Artichokes and vinegary dipping sauce
I was around eight years old when I had my first artichoke. In our family, that was our treat. If it was a holiday or special occasion or there was extra money, there’d be artichokes. At least, that’s how it felt to me. It was very exotic because no one else in our town of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, ate them. My mom boiled them and made a dipping sauce of mayonnaise and white vinegar, which I also thought was the most fabulous concoction ever. When I would come into the house and smell vinegar, I knew we were having something special. That vinegary tang takes me back to a loving, supportive, sweet time. It’s an emotional connection.
Yoga + food-retreat leader, Santa Monica, California
Food philosophy: Locavore
Yoga heightens the senses and has influenced me toward a healthier, local, more inspired approach to food. Still, there are moments when you’ll catch me eating something that would cause a purist to excommunicate me, if not worse.
Most memorable meal: Homemade gnocchi
My grandparents lived the first half of their lives in the Jewish ghetto of Venice, Italy. With the Holocaust looming, they escaped Italy in the 1940s, moved to New York, and opened an Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan called Ca’ d’Oro. One of my earliest memories is being pushed in a stroller to the restaurant and my Grandma Neda bringing me my favorite dish: gnocchi pomodoro. The freshly made dough, rolled and boiled so each gnocchi was light and airy, a finishing of fresh tomato sauce, and a sprinkling of cheese— it was perfection! My grandparents are now in gnocchi heaven, but my wife and I carry on the tradition with Grandpa Bert’s recipe (see right), which also tastes great with pesto. I make it with fresh ingredients, and I’m transported back to the dimmed lights of Ca’ d’Oro reflecting in his glasses as he grated fresh Parmesan over the best potato dumplings this side of Venezia.
In a large pot, boil potatoes until soft, about 45 minutes. While the potatoes are still warm, peel them and pass them through a potato ricer. On a floured surface, spread out potatoes and sprinkle ½ cup flour over top; pour eggs over potatoes. Knead potatoes to create dough, adding as much of the remaining flour as needed to make it come together and no longer feel sticky, about 4 minutes. Roll dough into a long baguette shape, and cut it into 5 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long, snakelike shape the thickness of your thumb. Cut into 1-inch pillowlike pieces. (Optional: You can also hand- shape the gnocchi, carefully rolling each piece against the concave side of a fork to make a C shape.)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Working in batches, drop a handful of gnocchi into the water. When they float to the surface, remove them with a slotted spoon.
Serve gnocchi with pesto, browned butter, or a favorite tomato sauce. Refrigerate leftovers in an oiled container for up to three days.
Hatha yoga and mindfulness practitioner + author of The Heart of the Plate, Berkeley, California
Food philosophy: Sustainable omnivore
I eat primarily plants, with smaller amounts of sustainably raised animal-based foods (cheese, yogurt, eggs, fish, meat).
Most memorable meal: Tomato-egg baguette
I was sightseeing on the outskirts of Paris with my two then-school-aged kids. After traipsing around to museums and gardens all morning, we were hungry for lunch but didn’t have the patience for a sit-down meal. We wandered into a small boulangerie that sold a few kinds of bread and one or two types of paper-wrapped sandwiches. We grabbed a few sandwiches and sat down on the bench out front to eat what turned out to be a just-baked baguette filled with small, thickly sliced tomatoes and heartbreakingly perfect halves of farm-fresh egg, the whites firm and the bright-yellow yolks delicately soft, just this side of runny. I had never (nor have I still) tasted anything better nor enjoyed anything more. It’s a testament to the brilliance of the very simplest, purest, unadulterated, basic sustenance, and to slowing down and enjoying each bite. The power of that meal sometimes brings me to tears.
I’m gluten-, dairy-, soy-, and fairly sugar-free. While I practice ahimsa (nonharming), I also prioritize self-care. My body functions better with some animal protein, always from fish or buffalo.
Most memorable meal: Spicy guacamole
About 13 years ago, while I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I drove up toward Taos with some friends for a hike. Afterward, we were dirty, dusty, and hungry. We stopped for dinner at a restaurant on top of a hill and ordered margaritas and guacamole, which was made in front of us and served with warm, homemade blue-corn chips. The guacamole is typically excellent in those parts, but this was achingly good. They made it with white onions, a touch of fresh tomato, jalapeños, a liberal dose of cilantro, and just-squeezed lime juice. It was so spicy it made my eyes water and my nose run. We continued to eat and drink, and conversation actually stopped for a long time. The silence intensified all of our sensations—the soft blanket of the wind on our skin, long moments of eye contact, the tartness of our drinks—as we watched the sun set, a passionate blood red, over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
Vinyasa flow teacher, Charleston, South Carolina, and Brooklyn
Food philosophy: Flexitarian
I’ll try anything once, but overall I believe in balance and guilt-free eating. If the energy you put out as you eat is “This will make me fat” or “This is against my morals,” then it’s negative. So if I eat something not good for me or outside my norm, I say, “Thank you. This is so special that you made this for me,” and it’s fine.
Most memorable meal: Box of macarons
A student of mine had just returned from France and brought me a beautiful box of macarons from Ladurée, the French patisserie. There was an assortment—caramel fleur de sel, pistachio, rose—and they were so gorgeous, a rainbow of colors. So I thought, “Well, this is really pretty, but I don’t know if I’m going to eat these.” Green smoothies are my comfort food, and my big rule of thumb is to eat nonprocessed food. Obviously, I didn’t say that to her! I got into the car, opened them up, and ate one. I’m telling you, it was the most profound experience because, honestly, I didn’t think they’d be my thing. The rose macaron in particular was a beautiful pink on the outside and this pale pink-white on the inside, a cream center. It was like biting into a cloud. The macarons taught me that if you’re a stickler for a specific diet, it limits your experience. Yes, there are certain foods I don’t like to eat, but if someone puts something in front of me with love, I eat it. Sharing food is the ultimate way to say, “I love you.”