On our last afternoon in Pondy, we took the local Heritage Walk tour. During the walk around the French quarter, we started discussing food and drink with the tour guide. He told us that Pondicherry was not very good at classic French food (in line with our observations), but had good continental food and amazing South Indian food. We asked what his favorite South Indian restaurant was, and he unhesitatingly recommended Surguru. He takes his family there when they want to go out for South Indian food. So how could we resist? Off we went for our final dinner in Pondy.
Surguru is set back from the busy Mission Street, in a converted Health Department office. The building reminded me a little of a bingo hall or a community center, with a bunch of larger tables, a cashier behind small bars, and a recessed upstairs loft.
Unfortunately our camera was stolen with the pictures from this meal still on the SD card. So text will have to suffice for this one (if anyone makes it here, send me pictures of the Tandoori Idly).
The menu at Surguru is enormous, with South Indian, North Indian, and South/North fusion dishes. We had a feast so that we could try even a small fraction of what looked intriguing:
- Tandoori Idly – None of the Indians I’ve talked to have heard of this, but it was delicious. 3 Idlies cooked in the Tandoor with a tandoori masala sauce. The idlies were still nice and soft on the inside, with the addition of a unique smokiness and heft to the outside. I’m very sad to have lost my pictures of this special treat.
- Channa Batura – We didn’t know what this was, but we like channa (chickpeas) and gave it a try. Turns out that a batura is a large, puffy fry bread (think poori but larger and with a thicker skin). Baturas are a bit too greasy for my taste, but it made for an impressive picture (oops), and the channa preparation was great. Spicy, complex, and perfectly cooked channa.
- Mangalore Set Dosa with Vada Curry – Surguru has an entire section of their menu dedicated to dosai, and we asked the waiter for his recommendation. A Mangalore dosa is solely made of rice, which makes it lighter and lacier than your standard dosa. The “set” part of the dosa meant that it was cooked on one side and served in a set of two. It came out more like a medium-sized pancake than the paper-thin dosai I’ve had in the past. As advertised it was served with a vada curry, which was thick, brown, spicy and went well with the dosa.
- 3 Taste Uttapam – I’d seen uttapam on a bunch of menus and didn’t know what they were. The “3 Taste Uttapam” seemed like a good way to try them out. The uttapam was pancake-ish (like the set dosa but cooked on both sides) with vegetables mixed in. The 3 tastes were onion, tomato, and parsley. The parsley was my favorite, the herbs mixed into the uttapam went very well with the assortment of chutneys. The onion and tomato were fine, but less exciting.
Overall, the food was fantastic and very cheap. Staff were friendly, and the ambience was entertaining. It was fun watching the food stream out of the kitchen. We’ll definitely be back next time we’re in the area, and I highly recommend checking out Surguru if you’re in Pondicherry.
99 Mission Street (+ 2 other locations)
Daily: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
All of the India guidebooks rave about the excellent French food in Pondy. From my experience so far, I’m not quite convinced, as most of the places we’ve checked out seem to offer generic “continental” food that often appears more Italian than French and not particularly exciting. Last night we took a short walk to check out menus at three of the restaurants that both the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet recommended: Madame Shante’s, Rendezvous, and Le Club. We found all of them rather uninspiring, but along the way we passed the Hotel de l’Orient, and were compelled by the gorgeous setting and live music to stay for dinner.
The hotel is a beautiful converted heritage house in the French Quarter. Like many of Pondicherry’s heritage houses, it features a lovely open-air central courtyard, which is where they’ve set up the restaurant. There were a couple of musicians playing guitars and singing American and British piano-bar-favorites with French accents (an effect made even stranger by the fact that they were Tamil).
I would classify the food at l’Orient as “French-Creole” rather than strictly French; many of the dishes on the menu were obviously French takes on Indian dishes, like curries and local South Asian vegetables.
We were very hungry when we arrived. We ordered a citrus salad with dates and figs in a rosewater dressing, a shrimp “cassoulette,” (apparently not a misspelling of “cassoulet”) and a lady finger curry (“lady finger” is the local term for okra). The food took a long time to arrive, and the bread that was placed on our table looked like a baguette, but tasted stale and chewy (typical for India, but a travesty in a town known for its French food and pastries). The salad was refreshing and quite a nice combination. The shrimp cassoulette was rich and creamy, in a green sauce that we wanted to lick off the plate. It was served with roasted potatoes, which soaked up the extra sauce nicely. The lady finger curry was enjoyable for the first few bites, but there was some strong flavor in the sauce that I tired of quickly.
The food was good but not amazing. The service was gracious and polite but slow. The ambience was fantastic. Overall, it was a very nice romantic setting for dinner in Pondy, and likely better – and more unique – than most of the “French” restaurants that the guidebooks recommend. And because this is India, we were in and out for about $10 US.
Hotel de l’Orient, Pondicherry
17, Rue Romain Rolland, Pondicherry 605001
Phones: 0413-2343067, 2343068, 2346589
Lauren and I spent some time shopping this afternoon. By 16:30 I needed a break for a snack. Conveniently enough, we were at a shop with an attached cafe. Lunch #2 consisted of a thali with your choice of 6 salads, bread, a drink, tea or coffee, and a sweet.
The French proprietor makes her own hibiscus and mint syrups, so we had a hibiscus soda to start:
For our thali, we chose the tomato salad, ratatouille, shredded beets + garlic, shredded carrot salad, cucumbers and curd, and pomegranate seeds.
To conclude, we had a very nice mint tea served with a mini cashew brittle. Tasty, light, and total cost of 150 Rs (about $3). What’s not to like?
53 Suffren Street
Pondicherry is renowned for their food scene, which takes its French colonial history, current new age influences, and mixes it up Tamil-style.
Kasha Ki Aasha has a shop on the ground flood that sources from local artisans and promotes a “fair trade” system. Upstairs is a rooftop cafe/lounge with a nice breeze, soft cushions, and a myriad of magazines from the past decade.
The food is European/Indian fusion, with a focus on whole grains and fresh vegetables. We started with some refreshing beverages – fresh pineapple juice and iced tea. The iced tea was unsweetened with sugar on the side, a welcome change.
I ordered the Indian Enchilada, a mix of dal, onions, and salsa wrapped in a chapati with cheese and salsa on top, curd on the side.
Lauren got the Black Bean Burger – two large patties with a carrot salad. No bun.
All of the excitement from this vegetarian fare made my wife a little sleepy (I’m sure it had nothing to do with our overnight bus ride):
Overall we had a lovely time relaxing at Kasha Ki Aasha. I’m eyeing the pancakes for my next visit!
Update (10/24/09): We used a free pass to Uptown Fitness Studio this morning that we had received from lunch. We were wondering if there was an association (maybe a family member owned the gym). Turns out that Kasha recently took over management of the gym. She was managing the desk this morning, and is an American from upstate New York.
Kasha Ki Aasha
23 Rue Surcouf
+91 413 2222963
Mon – Sat: 8:00AM – 9:00 (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
One of my Babajob co-workers just reminded me that we could potentially run into Kanye West in Pondicherry this weekend – or Kanye East, as he’s now affectionately known in these parts. After the events of last month, he’s apparently decided to spend some time meditating and reflecting on his life, and has chosen the Sri Aurobindo Ashram as the place to do it.
On a related note, Kanye apparently checked out this blog recently and had some feedback to offer.
Tonight we are heading east to Tamil Nadu, for a long weekend in Puducherry (aka Pondicherry) and probably Mahabalipuram (aka Mamallapuram). One of the beautiful things about being a “volunteer consultant” (or “intern,” or whatever Sean wants to call us) is that it’s easy to take long weekends whenever we want. :) We’re taking an overnight sleeper bus out there — it was too late to get reserved train tickets — and we haven’t decided how (or exactly when) we’re coming back, but I think we’ll either fly or train from Chennai on Tuesday.