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Food For Thought And Food Too Hot

July 2007
Food For Thought And Food Too Hot

When was the last time a doctor—whether associated with medicine or academia—served you food at a restaurant? Never, most likely. That could change if a vegetarian restaurant chain named Annalakshmi opens branches, as planned, in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. It's a singular chain, founded by a now-deceased spiritual leader whose sect operates what are called Temples of Fine Arts and Temples of Service. Annalakshmi opened the first branch in Kuala Lumpur in 1984, and over time expanded to Singapore, India and even Australia. The concept is simple yet high-minded. "It is a philosophy based on the ancient adage athithi dhevo bhava (meaning ‘the guest is god') manifested through the service of a largely voluntary staff—housewives who know what it takes to prepare a wholesome meal, a miscellaneous team of doctors, teachers, technicians, clerks and accountants providing polite, unobtrusive service," according to the Singapore branch. The cuisine is entirely vegetarian and in some cases there are no set prices; customers pay whatever they wish. Their signature bhojans range from the Preethi (favored by President Kalaam) to the 35-course Swarnalakshmi (favored by foreign visitors in Chennai). Though run by volunteers, the standards remain consistently high in all the branches, as per various sources. Food for the soul, one might say.���

The Bhut Jolokia chili is another kind of food—one that's bound to leave a burning impression on the daring diner. The Guinness Book of World Records has picked this super spicy chili from northeastern India as the hottest pepper in the world. It scores over a million SHUs (Scoville Heat Units) on the heat-measuring scale developed by Wilbur Scoville. Bell pepper, for the sake of comparison, doesn't even register on this scale, while jalapeno is in the 2500-10,000 range and cayenne scores only as high as 50,000 units. Even the vaunted habanero stays within the 100,000-300,000 range. Other names for this killer pepper include Bih Jolokia, Naga Jolokia and Raga Mirchi.

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