The Gourmet Flavors of Pondicherry
When I got an invitation to experience the fusion coastal cuisine iconic of Pondicherry, my first thought was, wow–South Indian style seafood! Well, the evening certainly met that criteria, but with a very pleasant twist of surprise!
If you’re the type who loves different regional and traditional foods, you would love Pondicherry cuisine, no doubt. ITC’s Dakshin Coastal brought this lovely cuisine to me and made me fall in love with it too! Sitting down to a well-planned, traditional 3 course meal truly takes you on a trip of its own.
It all started with the arrival of the French in 1674; thee cuisine stayed in the kitchens of their descendants, buried in layers of time and history. In the course of time, it took on regional elements that resulted in the Pondicherry cuisine we know today.
The table at ITC’s Dakshin was laid out in a South Indian fashion, complete with banana leaf lined platters. Sitar tunes played in the background, and we broke our the gorgeous hand made knife sets. A light jasmine scent kissed the air. Smartly designed seating with the kitchen visible from your seat, made you even more excited about the little food adventure you were about to go on.
The dhoti-clad waiter came around to pour Tengaiy Paal Rasam–a traditional rasam that they ensured, we will love. And boy, did I! It was a tangy, pungent concoction that left you craving for one more sip, just seconds after you put your glass down! Although we had some Chardonnay at the table too, the rasam seemed to still getting most of the attention.
Chef Padmaja came to greet us at our table, explaining how the cuisine we were going to experience was food that contained the proof of being a district dispersed over four states and having very strong French roots. It was, in fact, an easy and beautiful amalgamation of all these elements that made the cuisine so unique. She rightly explained that the fusion would be experienced in the manner in which the food is prepared, rather than the choice of ingredients.
The taste of every dish had the delightful South Indian tinge. And yet, each dish stood out with its own distinct character. The starters consisted of Erral Kavapu- masala fried prawns and KassaKassa Kola Urandai- spiced meatballs with poppy seeds. Both items, although commonly found in other cuisines, had a special touch to it. The careful blend of spices gave the poppy meatballs a mighty taste but the meatballs felt light at the same time too. Although gently crisp on the outside, the king-sized prawn was by far the juiciest I have ever had. The French connect was evident in the light feel that the coating of the prawn contained.
These starters were also accompanied by their vegetarian counterparts–a corn pat
ty and a deep fried potato ball with four chutneys ob the side: coriander, coconut, bottle gourd, and tomato. There was a light, but intense and truly virginal taste to each of the chutneys. The simple coconut chutney was so gentle and sweet, it seemed far from our everyday coconut chutney. My favorite, the coriander chutney, seemed to complement every entrée, especially the meatball.
The Beetroot Saladu had a strong vinegar chili dressing that dint require any chutney to go with it. Served with eggs, it was a delicious tossed salad containing minimalistic a dressing that did justice to the star ingredients and was exquisite and fresh.
The main course had the perfect combination of dishes that a hearty non-vegetarian like me would like. The Kothamalli Puthina Kozhi Kari- chicken curry with coriander and mint, and was one of the most delicious chicken dishes I’ve ever tasted (and I truly mean it). The ginger-spiced fish curry, Meen Inji Curry didn’t have a taste that etched its way into my palette, though. But the Yeral Vindail- prawns in coconut milk and vinegar sure made up for it. The vinegar was powerful but it wasn’t so strong that you’d cringe on biting in. It had a light sour taste that married well with the coconut milk.
The mutton mince–Kothina Kari Puliperattal with chillies and tamarind was seasoned just right and so deliciously, it had its own burst of flavor in your mouth. The eggplant in a creamy gravy with the right amount of tomato a delicious vegetable dish that I enjoyed too.
Although we ate these with appam, which isn’t a traditional Pondicherry main, most of the households now have appams as a staple. All the dishes we sampled paired well with rice too.
Despite being full to the brim, we just couldn’t resist dessert–plain old Pondicherry cake. But oh, plain as it sounds, it was absolutely perfect! The semolina cake topped with a rose petal and placed in a shallow pool of coconut milk was the the right amount of spongy and sweet. Next to it, the intelligently configured, tiny baguette dropped in coconut milk was almost like a symbol of the concept of the meal that we just experienced. The sweet and light taste summed the evening experience quite well.
It might be evident that I have become a fan of Pondicherry food, but I simply love a meal that lets you eat such a variety and yet, not leave you feeling like a bean bag. I enjoy all things creamy, and having such amazingly light creamy gravies made me like this cuisine all the more. A trip down Pondicherry just to experience this cuisine is highly recommended.