Saturday, December 22, 2012

Meandering foodies in Pondicherry

If there is heaven on earth it’s where you can taste butter, butter and more butter. And Pondicherry comes close to be that place, but strictly for a glutton. More than sightseeing we got caught up in tasting some good pizzas, pastas, coq au vin and beef bourginion. We researched a bit before this trip and were aware of the places we would visit and where we could get some good grub. This trip was very special to us; being our first road trip alone. WHO was all excited using his navigator app on Ipad. And he gave me his co-pilot seat to track the routes. With a couple of misses and wrong turns we reached Pondi in 4.5 hrs from Chennai and that too after attending a colleague’s wedding for which we had driven nonstop from Bangalore the previous night.

We were famished and directionless on our first evening in Pondicherry. After wandering around to
decipher the many Rue’s (roads in French) in Pondi, with promising restaurants at every corner, referred by other bloggers, we ended up dining at ‘Café d le Oriente’. I found their stuff over priced for the quantity they served. I wanted to taste a quiche, because I never had an authentic one, though have had experimented with quiches back home. The quiche served was a small slice and a rip off at Rs. 185 apiece. And the chicken soup had an overwhelming cilantro taste. I suggested Spaghetti Carbonara and was again appalled at the quantity served. I think the serving size had a foreigner stereotype to it. The spaghetti tasted quite different from what I had tasted in Italy. In short, nothing managed to surprise our palates. This was a restaurant not recommended on the websites we had google’d and so we decided to do penance by only following the recommended ones on our list going forward.

On the way back to our hotel, I had a sudden craving for dessert. We were discussing about our breakfast next day during our dinner at ‘Café d le Oriente’ and the spread at ‘Baker’s Street’, so when we found ourselves right in front of their doorstep I thought the universe was conspiring to let me taste a slice of heaven. I remember how mesmerized I was when I entered ‘Baker’s Street’. WHO says my face had a glow he had never seen before. I was excited seeing tarts, tiramisu, éclairs and petit fours. Since it was closing time I could see that most of the trays were empty. I had an éclair and it tasted divine. We again landed there the next day, after a walk at the beach, for a hearty breakfast. We amassed a bill for Rs 700, which is definitely costly, but then we tasted everything we fancied – a spinach quiche, a mushroom- hamomelet, plain omelet, orange juice, pineapple juice, bacon sandwich, butter croissant and we liked everything.

And it was like having a gastronomic orgasm. We choose this breakfast over the one at ‘Promenade’, who were offering a buffet for Rs 400 per person and we were pleased at what we saw there too. If you have a bottomless tummy I would suggest the ‘Promenade’ but if you are like us (poor eaters at buffets) ‘Baker’s Street’ might suit you. Now if you think Rs. 700 is still expensive you definitely need to taste the croissant and I bet my you salt that it is made with a lot of honesty. When we tasted a croissant at ‘Hot Breads’ the last day I realized the difference.

We visited ‘Baker’s Street’ again the next day to pack some breakfast for a trip to Pichavaram (second largest mangrove in the world). Pondicherry attracts people for three reasons- beach, booze and shopping. But mapping the city and familiarizing would not take more than a day or two. So if you have more than a weekend at hand, Pichavaram is one place you should not miss. I have lived all my life in cities with proximity to the sea and beach so these were definitely not my reason for a trip to Pondicherry. What excited me was the French food safari. So I would add a fourth reason why people should choose Pondicherry for a holiday, it’s to satiate one’s foodie soul.

Our travels from Pichavarm were filled with hope of savouring the local eateries ut we were disappointed at not finding any worthwhile joints to refill ourselves. And that’s how we ended up at ‘Madame Shante’s’ at 3pm. Now that indeed was an odd time to have lunch, but after a two hour boat ride at Pichavaram and a great bargain on some dry shrimps on our way back, ‘Madame Shante’s’ was the only place willing to offer us a decent meal at 3pm. We had a sausage salad, beef in red wine sauce and Pasta Arabiata for Rs 350. And I must add that this was one reasonable meal we had in Pondicherry. I was more than happy to have Pasta Arabiata well prepared, after a long time.

A year ago my friends from insti and I had visited Pondicherry and the first meal I had tasted then was at ‘Satsang’. With all the good experiences of that meal, especially the beef bourginion, which I first saw in the movie Julie and Julia, WHO and I decided that we would have our dinner there. But the food did not match our expectations. WHO ordered beef bourginion and I kept wondering why it looked so different from the one I ordered a year ago, only to realize they served us Beef Burgundy instead of Beef Bourginion. I ordered a Coq au vin which turned out to be grilled chicken with French fries. What upset me the most was their slow service. There was no warmth and promptness to serve on the part of the waiters while compared to the other eateries we went to. We chose the rooftop and perhaps the staff at ‘Satsang’ was finding it difficult to manage two floors. I would recommend their Beef Bourginion and my suggestion is solely based on my memories of Beef Bourginion a year earlier. By then we had quite a few experiences to have a bench mark in our minds as to what was worth and what was not.

Another eatery that surprised me, my taste buds to be specific, was ‘Hotel Qualithe’ located at Rue De, Labourdannain. We missed them the day before, after our visit at Auroville, as we were later for lunch time. But the next day we were on time and found quite an impressive menu on their chalk board. And since we love pork we ordered Schezwan pork which was the spiciest I have ever had.

We also tried out a fish curry which was nice as well. I am usually skeptical of fish curries, prepared other than at home, or you could say I am an ethno centrist when it comes to fish. I want it prepared my style. But I broke this prejudice of mine at ‘Hotel Qualithe’ and though I was not completely happy we did manage to finish the fish curry served to us.

If you ever Google eateries in Pondicherry, wood fire pizzas are something that always come up. And having been to Italy I immediately switch off to the luscious imagery of prosciutto filled pizza coming out of the stone oven with a long peel (Peel is the shovel used to shove pizzas and bread loaves into the oven). We could not make it to most places that promised these pizzas in Pondi. So on our last night in Pondi, we went to ‘Pasta bar Veneto’. It is not as expensive as it sounds and plus it has the American booth style seating. A small bar with some bar stools makes it look even more chic.

We ordered a Neapolitan pizza and Pasta Bolognese for Rs 540. Even though the place is small we loved the ambience. If you are a diehard fan of Pastas and Pizzas this is one place you should visit. There is also a chocolate shop right across ‘Pasta bar Veneto’ which would amuse chocolate lovers, even more reason to go for your antipasti and Il Primo at ‘Pasta bar Veneto’ and then your Dolce from next door.

I hope the pics excite your taste buds and these suggestions can help those who wish to visit Pondicherry and learn the place through their palate.

We have a post on wine making due in 3 days so get back here for the most coveted recipe on wine making :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some days............

Some days are good
And some days are bad
And some days just around the corner
Things change forever

Some days are wild
And some days sober
And some days just around the corner
Life befriends the stranger

Some days are calm
And some days are wild
And some days just around the corner
You lose her, whatsoever

Some days are painful
And Some days are euphoric
And some days just around the corner
Time freezes just for her

Some days are chaotic
And some days too much in order
And some days just around the corner
Life meets the same stranger

Monday, December 10, 2012

A trip to Pichavaram

If you heading south of Chennai, on East Coast Road, and if you are not stopping at Mahaballipuram, then you are definitely bound for the land of ‘Brew’ and ‘Bread’ – Pondicherry or Puducherry, as its now called. A third reason could be the ‘Beach’ but I did not find it to be that alluring because it was more rock than sand. I am sure that there are hidden beaches in and around Pondicherry, which are pristine and un-crowded. But other than the three ‘B’s, what really caught our attention was the presence of a mangrove forest nearby and the second largest mangrove forest in the world at that. The place is called Pichavaram and is situated 60 km south of Pondicherry on the Bay of Bengal coast. For the uninitiated, a mangrove is a swamp like formation on the coastline consisting of plants and vegetations which are tolerant to saline water conditions. Mangroves shelter fish, birds, crustaceans and other marine life. Mangroves are also important because they form a buffer that defends coastlines from flooding, erosions and tsunamis. India has both the largest – Sundarbans and the second largest (Pichavaram) Mangrove forests in the world.

According to us the best time to visit, any place in and around Chennai, is between November and February. All other months are really hot and humid. And though Pichavaram is a so called forest, it’s on a beach and without much shade or cover from an unforgiving sun. The ideal time in the day to visit Pichavaram would be 9 am, when the place opens for tourists, and wrap it up before 12 noon. Make sure you carry caps, shades and water bottles. We started from Pondy around 7:15 am and reached Pichavaram by 9 am. Ideally one should start a little earlier, say 6:30 am, and then one can do a few stops on route. The drive is scenic in patches and traffic less early in the morning.
The ECR is good to drive, other than the road within the Cuddalore town limits. It’s a horrible patch and if you are driving your own car you definitely need to give it a good pampering after the trip is over.
Food is a challenge as there are no good restaurants on the way. We packed our breakfast from Pondy and had it on-route and had planned to come back to Pondy for lunch. But if one is able to pack a light lunch as well then you could spend more time in Pichavaram. There is a restaurant of the tourism dept at Pichavaram but we did not visit it and hence cannot give a review per se.
The ticket booking office is a non-discreet building, with the ticket counter like any old single screen movie theatre. There is ample parking space if one is travelling by car or taxi. To venture into the sea one has two options – row boat or motor boat. The row boat is a better option as compared to the motor boat as a row boat can easily negotiate the insides of the mangrove forest and there is no danger of the blades getting tangled in the undergrowth. We were two people on a single row boat but our oarsman, Mr Sarvanan, told that the row boat can take up to 10 people and more the people it’s better for him to balance the boat and navigate. The row boats can be hired on an hourly basis with the minimum charge being approx Rs. 200 for two hours. Then there are four and six hourly charges.
Sarvanan, our oarsman, started rowing the boat and showed us the route we would be taking in the next two hours and it seemed like we were in for a boat ride in a lake. We didn’t drive this long, early in the morning, for just a boat ride. Bhujji started conversing with Sarvanan in his native tongue and told him that we wanted to go deep into the forest and see the place where a scene for the movie – Dasavatharam was shot. Sarvanan got all excited and started talking about places deep within the forest where there is very little sunlight, places where the branches tangle around you like snakes, place where there is a beach within all this and more. He said he could cover all this within the two hours that we had, at a price of Rs. 400 more. And this is what people usually do, buy a normal ticket and then negotiate with the oarsman for a better ride.

After the deal was set, Sarvanan changed course and started rowing with a purpose. Within no time we were in a new world, it was surreal and exciting at the same time. We had so far been to places where the plantations or woodlands were really tall, like trees, or were shrubs, like in gardens.  Or like a sugar cane plantation were the plants would be just a foot or two above you and have really dense growth on the ground level, where little light would penetrate. This was something like the later.
But what made it much more bizarre was that we were rowing through it and there was three to four feet of water beneath us. The water was murky and had no visibility. Had the water been clear it would have added to the surrealism. For now we just had to concentrate on the world above the waters. Bhujji was right in mentioning that it looked just out a scene from the movie - Anaconda.
Often at places we had to bend our heads, when we were passing through the undergrowth, to save ourselves from getting hit by a root, or was it a stem? We followed a small stream for some time, with vegetation all around and over us, and then it would open up into a small clearing of sorts, where the water was deeper, and the foliage was a little spread across.
Then Sarvanan would choose another maze and row us inside of it. Baffled we asked him if he knew the route and he told us that there are over hundreds of such labyrinths in the whole stretch of the mangrove and it took him more than two months to memorize all of them.
Often in between we saw other boats and fishermen going about their daily chores.
We were hoping to see a lot of birds, as it was early in the day and it was also the migratory season in south India, but got a little disappointed at that front. We only captured a lone Kingfisher.
Sarvanan mentioned that there are options to catch mud crabs and go fishing within the mangroves. I am sure there might be arrangements made, similar to the ones seen in National Geographic, to catch and cook, for if we are ready to spend the right moolah. Again if negotiated properly, one can carry a little brew and proper lunch and have a hearty meal on the boat with family and friends, within the mangroves. But I don’t want to give ideas here to the Indian tourist lot, who are unruly in general and disorderly at best.  But for those who appreciate nature and the wonders around, plan this trip well and experience something which is not your usual boating in the lake or a visit to the beach, for sure.
So for next time, we are thinking to get Bhai along for little fishing, which he completely loves to do, and crab fishing as well. Maybe an extended trip into the still unknown and definitely the beach within the mangroves. Then there is Mahabalipuram too, which was looked over in this trip, to be visited.
Until then, there is Bhujji getting ready with a post on all the gastronomic outing we had in Pondy. Not sure if I can wish you Bon Apetite!
P.S: Our Oarsman, Mr Sarvanan’s, number is 09626616204. Keep your Tamils skills handy for a meaningful dialogue.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Soaking Nuts and Fruits for Christmas

“Cooking requires confident guesswork and improvisation-- experimentation and substitution, dealing with failure and uncertainty in a creative way”
                                                                                                             - Paul Theroux

I must admit that this is the onl kind of failure I would like to meet with on a daily basis. I love repeating my experiments and when they disappoint me I feel even more charged to set them up. I wish I had the same spirit for Life and my work in general. So as promised I have managed this post in between m vacation. We are leaving for Kerala in five hours but I had to post something. So here it is our experiment for the day.

Tis the season to be Jolly indeed and so we  decided to  soaking the  fruits and nuts for our christmas cake. We just came from a short trip to Pondicherry and I am all geared up for some baking after my encounter at Baker's street. That deserves a post of its own but since it's the season to bake cake I decided this post would come ahead and grace this blog. I have referred to a lot of recipes and the time period for soaking the nuts and fruits for christmas cake varies from a day ahead. a week, a month to a year. The longer you soak the better they  turn out to be says most recipes and I remember my aunts who were nuns referring to their time period for soaking nuts as 24 days. My hubby is uber excited after the Master Chef at office so he decided to take this soaking business seriously. 

We have been chopping the nuts and fruits from 6am and we finally have let them soak in peace. I am all excited since this is my first christmas cake. I hope nothing goes wrong after 21 days. We are lucky to have lavished walnuts this time because of our stock from Kashmir, I don't think we would bother adding walnuts next year. And the liquor from Pondicherry is the high light. So this  year's cake has supplies from Kashmir and Pondicherry which makes it even more special. I don't think a recipe is requires for this process but then when we needed one we did skim through umpteen recipes. So here is mine.

Ingredients for Soaking nuts and fruits for Christmas cake

Almonds- 150 gms chopped
Wlanuts- 150 gm chopped
Cherries- 100 gm finely chopped
Dates- 150 gm finely chopped
Sultanas/Raisins- 200 gms
Tutti fruity- 250 gm
Rum- 200ml
Wine (Red)- 200ml
Brandy - 200ml


Chop the nuts and fruits finely. If the pieces are big and chunky the cake will fall off or crumble when you  slice the cake. Once all the above mentioned ingredients minus the liquor is chopped, add them to a mixing bowl of plate and add the liquor.

 You will soon notice that the liquor is absorbed by the fruits immediately. I added a little more of rum when my hubby transferred the soaked nuts and fruits to an airtight container. 

Most recipes suggest stirring the mix for the first seven days. I will be doing the same. And I have my fingers crossed for 25th of December. Hope you baking enthusiasts and skeptics try this for once. If not baking lets make it an annual family ritual, what say?

 Do watch out for my French food safari in Pondicherry. I promise you a review on all the dishes and restaurants I savoured. But for now 'Deck the halls with boughs of holly.......