Pondicherry & The French Quarter
A Road trip to Pondicherry:
Something about Pondicherry is very attractive. Now called Puducherry, and created by the French, and Missionaries and mercenary soldiers who settled there, and was the capital of the French colonies in India. And so it’s no surprise that the city has a fair amount of “Frenchness” about it.
Driving down to Pondicherry from Chennai is a welcome break. The East Coast Grand trunk highway is a dream ride to a city that is beautiful, clean roads, the glistening waters, the calm serenity of the place is enchanting.
One can head to the several guest houses along the way or stay at one of the lovely beachside hotels. Its all a matter of choice. While walking the streets one sees houses past shuttered gates or high walls. These are the residences of the affluent whose closed doors hide a culinary secret. The cuisine of Pondicherry is a wonderful mix of French, Portuguese, Tamilian and Mughal cuisines. The best thing about the food here is that the use of spices is very nominal and controlled and this is a French influence where more though is given to the taste and flavour of meats and vegetables rather than masking them with the flavours of Star anise, garlic, bay leaf and green chillies which are predominantly used. The non vegetarian cuisine has a strong Chettinad influence and is comparatively spicier and you can have them along the way at little joints known as Tiffin houses.
A typical Pondicherrian meal follows a series of courses - there is a Starter, then a Main Course accompanied with two vegetables along with rice, and ending with Rasam, a thin soup made with cumin, pepper and garlic.
Starters like prawn kavapu (kavapu can be roughly described as a kind of kebab) or Rassul (lamb samosa) are must-haves.
For those who enjoy it, there is the foie gras cooked with Indian spices and techniques. Foie gras is a French speciality of cooking duck liver.
Pondicherrian cuisine uses a lot of fish; the notable dishes being Casoulet de fruits de mer (a kind of seafood stew), Policha Meen (fish baked in banana leaves) and the Langouste curry (prawns cooked in a coastal sauce). Yet another unique dish is the Vindail - not vindaloo – which is meat cooked in garlic and wine.
Vegetarian favourites like Rougail D’Aubergine which is like an Indian bharta but the flavours are slightly different because of the addition of coconut and a certain smoky feel to it. Patchadi or salad accompanies every meal. Chutneys and pickles like Katirikaiy chutney (aubergine chutney) or Erral Urukaiy (prawn pickle) are not to be missed.
Food is often accompanied by rice or lemon rice and light appams, known as Pain Creoles. Pondicherrian cuisine is not high on sweets, though their Jackfruit Crème Brulee is amazing.
Restaurants like Les Meilleurs, Rendezvous, Le Club which is owned and run by the Alliance Française is set in quaint and beautiful houses. Satsanga, Carte Blanche at the Hotel de L’Orient, La Terrase and Le Dupleix are the places to visit if you want to savour the interesting fusion of French and Tamilian food. I also liked the Aachiamma Restaurant which specialises in Chettinad cuisine inside the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
The secrets now out in the open, and it’s time to savour the knowledge that you can make these delicious dishes in the confines of your Indian homes and wow your guests.