John Ang (洪光明), who runs a successful yoga studio in Taipei’s trendy East District (東區), is one of many instructors who have translated an interest in developing a healthy lifestyle into a successful business. But he is unique for drawing on his multicultural background and charisma to create what might become the next big thing: yoga cuisine.
Ang, who was born in the US to Singaporean parents, gave up a career in dealing antiques to fully engage in a life of contemplation. But his business instincts have proved tenacious and, apart from establishing his own yoga studio, he has developed his own brand of fusion cuisine that combines Southeast Asian spices, Chinese and Ayurvedic dietary theory, and contemporary European culinary ideas to create healthy and flavorful dishes that he hopes will broaden the culinary horizons of Taiwanese while also making them more healthy; or at least more health conscious.
The Ahmisa Kitchen, which Ang recently started as an extension of his yoga studio, is open to the public and offers a menu of his own creations.
His fare can now also be found at the Aqua Lounge of the Ambassador Hotel in Taipei City, which has commissioned Ang to produce new dishes every week for a buffet that targets office workers, especially women, looking for a healthy alternative to the usual oily lunch box or office canteen offerings.
Ahmisa chef David Wu (吳東興) said that the fundamentals of the cuisine were based on innovation and home cooking.
Ang likes strong flavors and bold presentation, as demonstrated by the watercress salad with sweet and sour peanut and lemongrass dressing that I tasted at Ahimsa last week. There was nothing shy about this little number, and the tamarind and lemongrass complemented the tartness of the watercress.
A similar dish served at the Aqua Lounge, watercress salad with pecan, fig and Parmesan, also proved unusual, especially in its pairing of Chinese figs with Italian cheese. Other dishes such as Japanese asparagus wrapped in mochi and served with a wasabi sauce or Moroccan fruit and vegetable cigars (composed of a mixture of cranberries and capers) are all calculated to intrigue both the eye and palate.
“In Taiwan, usually, the moment food becomes healthy it also becomes boring. It’s either boiled or steamed,” said Ang, who says he wants to foster the excitement of eating.
The process of introducing his cuisine to a high street hotel has not been without its problems, Ang said. “Slowly I adjust. In the beginning I could not use too many spices. When I started using cumin, all the staff rejected my food. They didn’t like it, so they thought the customers wouldn’t like it either. It was really tough,” he said.
Ang, whose dishes provide a number of innovative options amid the smorgasbord of healthy food presented at the Aqua Lounge, hopes that through this mainstream outlet, he can introduce more people to his alternative to more conventional, less exciting healthy food.
Through meditation, “you realize that you are two people,” said Ang. “In cooking too, there are two people involved: there is the ego that tastes the food, and the real self that tastes the food.”
Although the food Ang serves at Ahimsa and Aqua Lounge is fully vegetarian, he believes that it is his aspirations rather than the food itself