This article was first published in The Mumbai Mirror on Dec 14, 2014.
Pondicherry or Puducherry is usually sought after for its French villas, quarters and unique graffiti. But there is more to this place other than the usual laziness that is implied whilst cycling or strolling around the rues and maisons.
The best way to experience any place is via its culinary offerings. Making it not only fun to go and check out different places to eat, but also a great way to connect with the locals and get to know that little extra information about a place, which one may never find in a typical travel brochure.
Pondicherry is known for its food. With the French ancient culinary tradition that marries well with the local cuisines to create what we would like to call a mosaic of culinary integration. It is the only place in India where one can buy authentic French baguettes, brioches and pastries. Apart from local restaurants that specialize in good French food that is served up alongside Tamilian, Keralite, Telugu, Bengali, Gujarati and Punjabi cuisine. Doesn’t that sound rich and interesting? Let’s take you through the best à la carte experiences we had during our travel to Pondicherry.
Café de Flore is located inside the Alliance Française de Pondichéry which is housed in a beautiful French colonial building on Avenue Goubert at its southern end near the Dupleix statue. This white villa, on the edge of the promenade which looks out to the sea from one end and the French Quarter on the other makes for a charming garden restaurant. With its quintessential mango colored walls and wrought iron twirly furniture set on a pretty manicured lawn, this place is perfect for a start to your day.
The menu is quite varied for a café of this nature ranging from snacks to full meals. This is not the place to grab dinner as they close at 7:00 p.m. However,it is perfect for breakfast, snacks, coffee, lunch and a cozy place to just relax and read book if not meet a friend. The Service is good and the price of their offerings is quite reasonable for the quality of the food.
What we were taken by were their crepes. Crepes are extremely versatile, while most people will have them as dessert they are also perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch and a light supper. The thin, French-style pancakes can be stuffed with ham and cheese and paired with a green salad for a savory version, or topped with whipped cream and fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Other than the crepes they are also good for their muesli, scrambled eggs, mocktails, great coffee, salads, croque-monsieur, pasta and vegie burgers. The quiche that we had was served with a fresh salad and was also quite delicious.
Keep in mind that their official address is 37 Rue Dumas but the café is accessible from both 37 and 38 Rue Dumas.
Lunch at Bakers Street
Baker Street, 123, Bussy Street, Puducherry – 605001.
Hours: Monday – Sunday 7.00 a.m. – 10.00 p.m.
Recommendations: Salads, Meringue, Fruit éclair, Brioche and Chausson aux Pommes
We’d be a lying if we claimed to have visited this beautiful bakery only once during our stay in Pondicherry, because we were familiar faces for a week during lunch time. A very popular up market French-style bakery where whether you can eat in or take-out, it fetches you the best in French cuisine.
Originally established mainly for the French tourists in Pondicherry, “Baker Street is a slice of France in Pondicherry” as the owners wanted to give a feel of France through the restaurant.
Being a concept-store it hosts 1001 delicacies starting with the simple bread and pastries and going up to fresh sandwiches,quiches and pizzas. Homemade Ice creams and homemade chocolates are also available here. You are welcome to dine in for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even just a tea break. The sandwiches and the pastries are a favorite amongst the frequenters.
The bakery offers seven types of French baguettes. It includes Dia Baguette, a mix of French & Mediterranean breads such as Kraftkorn multigrain bread mix, Ciabatta and Focaccia, Fibro whole wheat buns and breads with high fibre and high protein and pesto breads.
Their varieties of sweet pastries include strawberry, almond, or chocolate tart, chocolate mousse, brownies, cheesecake, mille-feuille, cookies, meringues and macaroons.
The croissants include almond croissants,butter croissants,pain au raisin and pain au chocolate. Everything looked as authentic as it would in bakeries on the streets of Paris. We tried and tasted the butter croissant and the almond croissant and could swear it’s the best we’ve tasted in India and came identically close to the Parisian ones.
Interestingly, Bakery Street also introduced authentic French Cheese earlier this year such as Camembert AOC, Comte, Roquefort, Crottins de Chavignol (goat cheese) and Raclette
We especially loved the freshness and abundance of their Fruit éclairs. Do not miss this on your visit to Ponidcherry. The staff are fluent in French so it makes it the best place to experiment with French baking and French speaking.
Lunch at Madame Shanthes Cafe Restaurant
40A Romain Rolland Street | Pondicherry H O, Pondicherry 605001,India
Priced ₹125 – ₹800
Hours: Monday- Sunday 12.00 p.m. – 3.00 p.m. & 7.00p.m – 10p.m
Recommendations: Pates au Champignons et tomatoes (Spaghetti with mushroom & tomato sauce), Steaks, Garlic Squids and Masala fried prawns
Madame Shanthes Cafe is a roof top restaurant serving both French and Indian cuisines. It one of the notable places for its seafood especially its garlic squids and steaks. The uncomplicated interior and simple seating extends a homely feel almost like sitting on the terrace of your very own house while people walk through the streets and boulevards below. The main attraction and its USP is the location which is by the beach, with beautiful sea-breezes from the Bay of Bengal and the mild eclectic lighting enhancing its romantic allure all the more. The conical straw roof provide the perfect escape from the afternoon sun while the breeze keeps you cool and calm. The menu at Madame Shantes is certain to meet everyone taste expectations. Vegetarians will love the Vegetarian Bisque using butternut squash and potato, its truly one of a kind. It is one of those places that might make you wait slightly longer because the French fries aren’t your fast-food chain defrosted variety. Put this on your list if you want good seafood from the mornings catch for lunch, a humble ambiance and cool sea breeze.
Dinner at Satsanga
54, La Bourdonnais Street, Near PWD New Head Office, Puducherry 605001
Hours: Monday- Sunday 8.00 a.m. -11.00 p.m.
Recommendations: Steak, Sea Food Platter & Spaghetti Bolognese
Satsanga is a well-known French restaurant in Pondicherry. and for good reason, it is one of the only restaurants with refined cuisine and Its delicate setting almost taking you back to old French colonial times. The food is a perfect amalgamation of Indian flavors and French recipes.
The vegetables are grown organically at the restaurant’s farm a little more than 300 kilometers away in one of the world’s rare temperate climates. The meats are sourced from different places in Southern India to ensure their gustatory quality. The shellfish and fish come from the catch of the day. You can expect nothing less than a hearty scrumptious meal from this place.
This is one of the places where they actually offer a visiting card of their French chef with your bill. While this restaurant also offers Indian and Italian options, their French choices on the menu are extensive. The authentic preparation and delicious food combined with the stunning ambiance with its old world decor, quaint little courtyard and beautiful lighting makes it a perfect dinner setting. An exhibition of paintings and photographs from across India line their walls. We’d like to think that someone very imaginative and skilled wrote their menu because it seems like they made a great effort to combine Indian and French cuisines. Popular for its cultural events, it offers a good mix of social gatherings and great lunches. And a lesser known fact is that it serves some of the cheapest drinks in town and while the slow service may be a bother for some, but if you’re in no hurry, it’s the perfect place to unwind for the night.
So go to Pondicherry for its French villas, quarters and unique graffiti but remember to stay for its food and relaxed vibe that come served on a silver platter.
Sometimes i like serving my readers everything on a silver platter so here’s a second helping:
Places to stay:
Boutique: Le Reve Bleu Rs 800 – Rs 1200
95, Rue Montorsier | 95, Rue Montorsier, Pondicherry 605001, India
Budget: Hotel Coramandal Heritage Rs 1000 – Rs 2000
36, Rue Nidarajapayer | Near Mission St Cathedral, Pondicherry 605001, India
Luxury: Le Dupleix Rs 5000- Rs 10,000 per night
5, Rue De La Caserne , Rue De La Caserne Pondicherry 605001, India
How to get there:
The nearest airport to Pondicherry is Chennai International airport, which is around 135 km away.
Villupuram train station is near Pondicherry and distance is 38 km. The Nagarcoil Express operates on Tuesday & Saturday and runs between Mumbai and Villupuram.
Overnight buses run frequently from Bangalore which is 6 hours away and Chennai which is 3 hours away.