Food For The Gods

Transforming material nutrition into spiritual blessing

Ellen M. Shapiro
Jun 11, 2019 · 4 min read
‘Canang’ baskets on the sidewalk in Sanur, Bali. Photos by Ellen Shapiro.

God, or the Gods, like to eat. That’s well documented in religious texts and in reports of archeological finds.

The God of the wandering Israelites savored the odor of the burning kidney fat of the animals that the priests sacrificed on the Temple altar (Leviticus 3:5). In ancient Mesoamerican cultures, such as the Maya, the gods demanded animal sacrifices and the letting of blood. On Olympus, the gods of the ancient Greeks partook of nectar and ambrosia, honeyed or salted wine. None of those traditions survived into the common era.

In Bali, Indonesia, however, the gods are well fed every day. Among the first things I noticed upon arrival were groups of small square baskets on the sidewalks in front of every shop and restaurant. Woven from banana leaves and filled with shredded colored paper, foodstuffs and flowers, candies and cigarettes, the baskets are often topped with burning incense sticks.

This is the art of prasada, food offerings for the gods, in this case, the gods of Hinduism, especially elephant-headed Ganesh. And Brama, Krishna, Rama, Shiva and Vishnu, to name some of the most popular in Hinduism’s pantheon of 30 gods.

In Ubud, a well placed plate filled with rice chips is held in the hand of Ganesh.

“We can make the preparing of food, the offering of food to God, and the eating of the food offered, into a powerful devotional meditation,”

writes Dr. Frank Gaetano Morales on learnreligion.com. He then lists the guidelines for the preparation of prasada:

  • strictly vegan offerings;
  • acquired without pain or suffering on the part of any creature;
  • no onions, garlic or mushrooms, which inflame the passions, according to Ayurvedic teachings.
  • preparation is to be done as an act of devotional meditation in a calm, peaceful frame of mind. No tasting.

“The goal is to prepare delicious foods, not with our own satisfaction in mind, but thinking only of the satisfaction of god,” he writes. “The food is arrayed on a special plate, offered with the burning of incense and the recitation of a mantra and five to ten minutes of silent meditation. The food is thus sanctified and transformed into the grace of God — and then can be eaten [by you] with conscious awareness.”

That’s not exactly what I saw in Bali.

Another view of the ‘canang’ baskets outside shops on the main street in Sanur.

This food was not left on the sidewalk to be eaten by humans. The Balinese practice their own unique brand of Hinduism, I’ve learned, which includes sacrificing meat and poultry. Young girls are taught to craft and offer square baskets, called canang, from coconut leaves, and fill them with flowers and gifts. The atmosphere in Bali, though, is often less than peaceful. Cities there might be among the noisiest on earth, with way too many cars, motorcycles and scooters crowding the narrow roads.

And the food for humans? Outside of tourist restaurants, some of it looked a little scary, even to me: stews that might have been sitting on open shelves in the extreme heat for days. In Ubud, I convinced my son and daughter-in-law to save their super-adventurous tastes for another day and eat with me in a health-food cafe with a posted menu featuring local versions of the soup-and-salad lunch.

There, I had a transcendent moment with a tomato soup full of fresh vegetables and quinoa grains. I liked it so much I duplicated it at home with ingredients available everywhere. I’m usually not a fan of quinoa, but the translucent grains floating in curried tomato broth won me over. (You too, I hope.)

1 Tb ghee or butter
1 1/2 tsp each ground ginger, ground coriander, curry power
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 14-oz cans stewed tomatoes (with their juice)
1 medium potato, peeled and cut in 3/4" dice
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally
1 cup coarsely shredded baby kale, chard or spinach, thick stems removed
1/3 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 cup thin green beans, blanched in boiling water until just tender

  • Heat the ghee or butter in a large soup pot.
  • When it’s bubbling, add the spices and stir until they’re fragrant.
  • Immediately add the stewed tomatoes — they have just the right sweetness — setting 4 to 6 of them aside.
  • Add 1 cup water.
  • With an immersion blender (a best friend in the kitchen) puree the tomatoes with the spices in the pot.
  • Add 3 more cups water (the quinoa expands a lot and will thicken the broth), the potatoes, carrots, shredded greens, and the reserved tomatoes, cut in small chunks.
  • Simmer for 20 minutes or until the pieces of potato are tender.
  • Add the green beans and corn, and heat through.

I made it last night with a handful of frozen shelled edamame beans instead of the green beans. I put a blob of plain yoghurt on top of each bowl and served the soup — so thick, it was almost a stew — with toasted naan bread and hummus. Supper was so good I had to write about it and get the recipe to you today.

One Table, One World

People coming from different cultural backgrounds sharing…

Ellen M. Shapiro

Written by

My career is designing and writing about design. Here, I can write about lots of things. My short fiction attempts to capture and evoke past moments in time.

One Table, One World

People coming from different cultural backgrounds sharing seats at the table to dine, to laugh, to cook, to heal and most of all to share the stories of their unique journeys all over the world.

Ellen M. Shapiro

Written by

My career is designing and writing about design. Here, I can write about lots of things. My short fiction attempts to capture and evoke past moments in time.

One Table, One World

People coming from different cultural backgrounds sharing seats at the table to dine, to laugh, to cook, to heal and most of all to share the stories of their unique journeys all over the world.

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