The Life and Charm of Pondicherry

I had been dreading writing this article for so long, thinking that no matter what I write, nothing can bring the beauty and vibe of Pondicherry to justice. And it breaks my heart to see people dismiss the place as “dead” and “boring” with no “life” of it’s own.

Pondicherry is no Goa. Everyone who has set foot there knows it. Infact, people who love Pondicherry and calls it their home, takes pride in the fact that Pondicherry is no Goa. It is a laid back beach town, still looming with spirituality, an essence of harmony, a culture that is deep rooted in traditions yet pecked with colonial remnants, squeaky clean roads (thanks to Kiran Bedi), a sunrise to die for and the nicest people that India could see.

I had read magazines after magazines, blogs after blogs, armed with information to make the best of the UT, desperate to fall in love with the place and dismiss a friend’s notion from her trip there with her college friends who went into culture shock on arriving there from Mumbai. I don’t blame them.

Pondicherry is not for everyone. It is no ordinary place.

 

From the moment I crossed the last toll gate, my face burnt from the heat, dusty hair strewn across, riding atop a bike, having crossed a few hundred kms from Bangalore— I knew I found a new home. Happy bohemians riding mopeds with their cheery smiles, police officer who didn’t just give you instructions but were happy to hear your story, a man from a laptop service centre who left his work and stepped out to help us find our destination— Pondicherry left us in awe.

 

We didn’t waste much time and headed to the town side of Paradise beach right after lunch. Sipping coconut water lavishly, thinking to myself “if I could move here permanently?” The next day, I sat under the shade of tree at Auroville, Matrimandir, having decided to skip the city and soak in the culture of this independent township, a universal city away from the shackles of borders and territories and believed only in human unity. Here I wasn’t an Indian, a Pakistani, an American. Here I was wholly and truly, a human.

As much as I loved everything here, the cute cafes, the friendly restaurant owners, it did get a bit dull when everything shut down by 8 pm. We ventured to the most happening part of Pondi— the Promenade aka Gandhi Beach, although no one really calls it that. The restaurants and hotels here start to get posh. The crisp, salty beach air hits your lips, knots up your hair but, you can’t help but watch yourself instantly feel happy. You watch families gathered together, kids chasing one another, dogs in their own little world— it is as if you leave your world full of chaotic upheaval, outside the realm of this beach town on the eastern shore of India.

It may be true that Pondicherry lacks the party vibe of Goa. People don’t travel here with the intention of letting loose. Heck, you don’t need to get here with the intention of finding peace, tranquility, getting in touch with your spiritual being— nothing. But, it is a different feeling of laying by the other side of Paradise Beach. The one you need to take a ferry to. Where the waters are a deep hue of blue, away from heavy tourist infestation. Nothing I ever write can describe this very feeling. The feeling of nothingness yet a deep sense of fulfilment that fills you from within.

You may come here and do nothing apart from visiting some of the cutest cafes and spend your time reading or interacting with the owners. But, I can assure you that you are going to love it. Not for the slightest bit will you miss going out drinking till late night with your friends. You will happily embrace a glass or two of wine and sit by the rocks at the Promenade and talk your heart out with your friend or partner. You will not find cheap bottles of beer but you will tantalise your senses with cuisine that will bring you back. Not once or twice but more number of times that you would like to admit. If you are anything like me, you will secretly plan everything in your hands to shift here permanently and find a job that you could do remotely that can pay your bills.

Pondicherry isn’t Goa. And honestly, we love it that way!

How to Reach Pondicherry

By Air- The nearest airport is at Chennai which is 171 kms away.

By Road- There are many buses that ply to Pondicherry regularly. You can share a cab through bla bla car or drive through ECR or from Bangalore.

By Rail- Trains regularly ply from nearby cities to Pondi.

 

Mohana Ganguly, when not eating, she daydreams about her next vacation.

Christmas for the ones who stay away from home

Holidays are the worst. Honestly.

Its hard to return home to spend time with our folks specially when you have to work between Christmas and New Years and staying away from home is a mess– emotionally. This becomes even harder if you are a Christmas junkie like me.

Hailing from a family of mixed faiths, Christmas was the greatest joy every year brought. Even more than my birthday. My grandfather– whom I generally spent every holiday with, hatched elaborate plans with me and we got cake, we mummified the entire house with fairy lights and the entire day was spent cooking the most delicious spread to be feasted upon. Both my grandparents have been wonderful cooks all their lives and my childhood was spent admiring their cooking.

After an afternoon of gorging till our bellies burst, we fell into a deep Bong slumber– something that should never be messed with. The evenings generally meant guests coming over, cutting the cake that we woefully kept eyeing the entire day and cheering into the festive spirit.

When my grandfather died, naturally, the joy of Christmas slightly turned sour for a new years till I decided to bring back the lost glory once again. Thus began a tradition of me cooking fusion roasts, Anglo- Indian spreads and loads of desserts for lunch. We would mostly go out in the evenings or end the day low key, around near and dear ones.

This year however, I ended up being completely alone and although its not the first time. I have spent a few Christmas alone in Delhi too but with friends by my side the impact wasn’t as hard. Completely at a loss for activities to fill me emotionally, I headed out on Christmas eve to enjoy a day by myself. I picked out one of the oldest joints in the city to have a rustic Irani meal.

Bombay Toast, Mutton Omlette and Fries at Koshy’s

Followed by that, I sat at Starbucks sipping some hot cocoa and staring at people of all sorts– the lovestruck kind, the nearly dating ones, the friends and loads of families. The day ended with some fiery Naga cuisine.

Naga Pork Curry, Rice and spicy Naga chilli chutney

The next day I was at an all time low. My spirits were completely dampened and I didn’t feel up for anything at all. I really began to miss home and it is at this point that one should make some plans with friends, catch up for lunch/ dinner, get some wine and do anything but don’t stay at home. Unless you want to stay at home.

Christmas is a festival that is best enjoyed by being around family and I know it gets incredibly hard but don’t cave in. You deserve to be happy on this day!

Living unhinged

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Siliguri (source: google:wiki)

Growing up, living in a small town was everything I didn’t want. The lack of shopping malls, food courts and broader perspectives didn’t help the cause much either. It was like playing the same movie again and again without any pause. I hated it.

Moving to Delhi was a fresh start for me, new set of friends, a new culture and understanding it and an ever expanding array of new experience that seemed so fun and made me feel like such an adult. But then all good stories come to an end. Five years of living in the city and add couple more years of living in three other cities, I was tired and my heart ached for the simple pleasures of home.

One major career crisis later, I found myself back in the city where it all began and funnily, this time I didn’t hate it. Apart from my occasional whining when I got bored of visiting the same mall a 100 times in one month, I took this as an opportunity to really understand my hometown which I refused to do while growing up. (I will blame it on my teenage hormones)

How is it like living in Siliguri? Honestly, it is as exciting as it living in any other city. The people are nice and friendly as long as you don’t do something completely rebellious that they still need time to accept or if they aren’t your relatives. In my case, I faced the wrath of both and still loved living here the past 6 months.

The perks: You just don’t need to hustle in this sleepy town. You wake up and even if you work in one of the many corporate branches here, you have enough time to take care of all yours needs and reach your office well rested and not a second late.

The weather is fabulous, apart from a couple of summer months where it gets hot and extremely humid. Rest of the year, its always pleasant, the winters are quite chilly and when it rains, its another story altogether! Only glitch- its an earthquake prone area!

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If you are an ardent momo lover like me, the town offers you a humongous variety of steamed and fried dimsums at almost every corner of every lane. The food here may not be extremely varied but you get enough good and affordable options and many new and hip places are opening up to keep the younger crowds enticed. Oh if you are here, don’t miss Openhouse Cafe, a personal favourite for their tandoori momos. Also, Netaji Cabin, that place made it to India’s top places for breakfast. Now don’t expect anything fancy there, its a small and very very old place that serves chai and butter toast. You can add eggs if you want.

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The town has set divisions for the close knit communities living here. You will find separate areas for Marwaris, Punjabis, Nepalis and the majority Bengalis. Everybody knows everybody so if you are sneaking out with a girl/ boy, the whole town will know! Growing up, the animosity between each community was pretty damn high but people are evolving and today each one is more cordial and friendly towards the other.

What to do here for fun? If you want to have fun there are some new clubs and lounges but I cannot speak up for them since I haven’t visited any (I am socially awkward), there are some gaming parlours, a lot of food places and my beloved City Centre, where I love to window shop and watch a movie sometimes. This particular time, I enjoyed sitting at CCDs and reading books, a nice break from Starbucks. Their croissants are honestly nice.

One can even go to Savin Kingdom- a small little “adventure” world. However, for the real travel lovers, this place is a paradise! Surrounded by loads of beautiful mountains, any hill station is so close by that you can venture out for breakfast and be back home in time for lunch. I am not kidding.

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Darjeeling is just a couple of hours away!

So, if you are tired of city life and really need a break, I would totally recommend you to give it all up and settle here for a wee bit and soak in the slow life and save your wallet in the process. Living here is quite cheap and renting a spacious 2 bedroom apartment would cost you 5000 INR plus the best part, there are so so many places to travel from here!!

I am getting ready to head back to my same old city life but taking with me the love and warmth of family, a sane heart, mind free from anxiety and a healed body. What more could I really ask for?

 

Gluten Free Cookies

The problem of being gluten intolerant is that, you have to constantly be on a hunt to find out replacement recipes for your favourite foods. Now cookies are something I crave every now and then and to be honest, I mastered quite a flair for it. I can just about toss anything lying in my “bakery” pantry and make a cookie out of it.

This one was concocted during a sudden sugar craving that took me by surprise and I was honestly bored of trying ice creams from the 24 hour store at the gas station next door. Cake was clearly out of option, thanks to the lack of resources, therefore what could be quick and sweet? A cookie of course!

So there, let me give you all the recipe for this delightful goodness.

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Coconut Cookies!

Why I call it only coconut cookies is, because you may or may not add the almond flour that I used. You can replace it with regular flour or increase the amount of coconut flour.

INGREDIENTS:

1 egg (vegetarians can skip it totally)

1tsp baking powder

1/4 cup vegetable oil/ butter

A pinch of salt

3/4th cup almond flour/ self raising flour for those who are gluten tolerant

3/4th cup sugar

1 cup coconut powder

1tsp vanilla essence

If you are feeling particularly nifty, add some chocochips. I made both the varieties.

METHOD:

Blend it all together using the hand blender. You can add the chocochips in the end and give it a good stir.

Line a parchment paper on your baking tray and drop small balls of the batter with your ice cream scoop or any other rounded kitchen utensil. No point using your hands because it will be too sticky.

Pre heat oven at 170 degrees and bake your cookies for 10 minutes thereafter.

Note that your cookies will be soft and fudgy.

If you are a Bong it will taste a lot like the baked version of your grandmother’s iconic naadu. 

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Ignore the sad looking pictures though.

Dhaba Hopping Off Tumkur Road

Quite often we find ourselves taking the highway off Tumkur Road to go for a long drive. Okay, let’s be honest, we take the highway mostly to find some new eats. And although there are far many places to cover, these are some of the places, you can take a stop to fill your tummy if you are on your way towards Mangalore or Mumbai from Bangalore.

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Pallavi Dhaba- I decided to put our favourite one up first. This one is a tiny dhaba that is quite easy to miss but if you keep your eyes wide open and hunt this one down, the food will surely make you super happy. The dhaba may not have the greatest ambience but the people are super sweet, the food arrives on time and everything tastes delightful!

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The Dhaba right beside New Agarwal Bhavan- This one is hard to miss thanks to its strategic location right beside a huge New Agarwal Bhawan. The food is served in small huts and their Kasturi Chicken is to die for! (Don’t blame me if you can taste the msg through your food)

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Jai Hind Dhaba- This dhaba isn’t my favourite but they do have a lot of tourists stopping. We had dal and Chicken masala there wasn’t anything particularly bad here but there wasn’t anything great either.

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The jazzy Dhaba- A km before Jai Hind Dhaba there is a dhaba with the coolest decor on the left. It also has a rabbit shed which is super fun and ducks roam free. I wish I could read the name of this place but it was written in Kannada. We stopped by to have a ton of food but they didn’t have roti and the mister really wanted to have rotis. So we tried their egg pakodas and it was a win-win situation for all of us.

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The Kannada Dhaba- This one isn’t on the same route. This is placed on the way to Mangalore. Again I couldn’t figure its name since it was written in Kannada. But this one is placed near a huge vegetarian food court, where we obviously didn’t stop. Apart from their Kerala parottas which were way too chewy for their own good, the food tasted pretty good. Although expect to get a ton of stares here since a lot of people don’t really stop here from what we could figure.

Most of the Dhabas on the Bangalore-Mangalore highway however have similar kind of food and most of them serve quails in the name of chicken. They all come with a ton of burnt garlic and do not expect north indian delicacies even at the dhabas that claim to serve food from far north. Rest assured the whole experience of stopping at a dhaba and trying some local food is unmatchable!

Mohana Ganguly

Tips to become a proficient Food Blogger

With the latest scene of mushrooming food bloggers every second day, it is hard to determine the thin line between foodies and food “journalists”. While the perks of working in this hugely popular industry is undeniable, instances of taking undue advantage of this title cannot be missed either.

Before diving further into this article, let me start with clearly differentiating between a foodie and someone who writes about food. A foodie is a person who loves eating not necessarily exploring a variety of cuisines, maybe even holds a certain prowess in the kitchen and may or may not click every picture to upload it on social media. Now a food “journalist” obviously loves eating too but they absolutely NEED to love “food” on the  whole. Their job is to explore, be open to various seemingly disgusting dishes, educate themselves about various cuisines, have a fair bit of knowledge behind the kitchen and incessantly document their food adventures and post it on social media.

Knowing that, its time to understand how to become a food blogger.

  1. This should be a holy grail of all food bloggers on the rise. Thou shalt not be biased. It is not possible for a person to love every kind of food therefore before judging a dish make sure that you know exactly how the dish is supposed to be like. If you think its far from authentic or tastes like a load of crap then you say it like it is but if it isn’t then explain the fact that it didn’t titillate your taste buds but was a decent dish nonetheless. Remember no two dishes taste the same. Even mummy’s lovely cooking may be different from today and tomorrow. Picture6
  2. LEARN. If you have culinary training then nothing like it but if not; educate yourself by all means. Read cook books, go online, watch TV shows, learn about the culture, learn about the cuisine. Do possibly everything that can increase your knowledge about food. 1393493_10202232978260188_2110168839_n
  3. Know the difference between culinary terms. Do not go to a Pan Asian restaurant and return upset if they don’t serve your favourite Sichuan noodles. You are not entitled to get Cantonese or Chinjabi fare at every place you may visit. WP_000297
  4. Make your writing interesting. Now food blogging is something where you need to taste and write and do both in an equally tantalising way. Your words should speak your love for food. Make the reader salivate simply through your description. At the same time do not make it all talks, nobody really has the time to sit and read your essay.
  5. EXPLORE. Explore. Explore. No matter how many times I say this, it won’t be enough. Unless you are hell bent on bringing out all the regional delicacies, make sure you eat from every kind of place not just street vendors. Because unless you try some high end restaurants, you wont truly know a number of authentic cuisines. Dill_Salmon_tikka
  6. Be open to new experience. While nothing can beat mummy’s Rajma Chawal, the food scene is way beyond that. Don’t go to your favourite restaurants 24 times and order the exact same thing. Try something new. If it sucks atleast you will know what not to recommend.Tandoori_baked_fish
  7. Be honest about what you write. There will be times when the restaurant wrongs you but do not do the same. There is absolutely no need to write long details and bash up a place on social media unless they did something terrible to you (like discrimination). If you didn’t like their food or service, mention that but no point going to lengths describing your horrific experience.
  8. While it is extremely easy to get swayed into this glamorous lifestyle, there are down sides to it too. Your health will get affected unless you are a gym freak who nibbles their food. The waistline will increase, the food will seem distasteful after a while and the words will simply not flow to describe yet another plate of Awadhi Biryani. So take it up only if your love for food is bigger than any trivial thing on this planet.DSC05308-tile
  9. Make sure you have enough anonymous reviews. While it is extremely amazing to attend all the restaurant launch invites, you should know that the food is never same the next day so make sure you go back and do an anonymous tasting. Or you go to a ton of other places and write about them too despite the lack of invitations.
  10. Amp up on your skills. Now if you are a food writer you must already be eating and writing but hone your other skills along with it. Do the best you can in terms of photography, marketing, PR work, social media managing. You gotta do it all.

Now if you have managed to read so far, you must be really interested in becoming a food blogger. So pick up that camera, go to a restaurant you have never been to before and post that savvy picture up for us to salivate, come on!

Cinnamon Chocochip cookies

Sometimes life is such that all you need is a cookie! And if they are moist and chewy, then obviously nothing like it. This “Toss all you have” cookie is moist, chewy and all the goodness in between!

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INGREDIENTS: Makes about 20 medium sized cookies.

1 1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used rice bran)

1 1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1tsp baking powder

2 tsp vanilla essence (i like adding 2 tsps, you can keep it to 1 if you want)

1 tsp cinnamon powder

A pinch of salt

Sprinkle a generous amount of any chocolate chips you have 🙂

METHOD:

Combine all of the ingredients together EXCEPT for the chocolate chips and blend them using an electric hand blender or a spatula if you may.

Roll them into small balls or scoop them out using an ice cream scoop on a baking sheet lined over a tray.

Preheat oven to 170 degree C

Bake the cookies for five minutes if they don’t start to flatten out you can manually do them yourself by pressing a spatula over the cookies. Bake for another 10 minutes or so.

Take them out and let it cool for atlas 5 minutes before you pick them up! The brown sugar makes the cookies super soft and crumbly so let it rest and cool down before you pick them up.

And enjoy! 🙂

Photowalk through Pondicherry!

When I say there is no place like Pondicherry, I genuinely mean it. With its narrow French named “rues”, the old town and bohemian destination- Auroville, you can find solace in this little town any time of the year. So here’s presenting the real life street glimpses of Pondicherry!

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Recipe post: When art meets food!

I don’t normally post recipes here but if its coming from Chef Japvir Vohra of Double Tree Hilton, exceptions are to be rightfully made. 🙂

So here’s presenting,

~Grilled Watermelon and Crab Stick with Avocado Puree~

grilled watermelon with crabstick

Ingredients:

500 gm watermelon horizontally cut into half
4 noscrab stick

100 ml lemon juice

15 ml sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste
4 gm castor sugar
5.5 oz. (156 g) Alaskan king crab meat
½ cup (115 g) of finely sliced spring onions
few pieces of red radish thinly
10 gm ginger cut into julienne
8 pieces of edible flowers petals
15 gmtogarashi powder

Ingredients for avocado puree:

1 ripe avocado peeled with pit removed
5 gm ginger minced
a pinch of wasabi paste
5 ml lemon juice
5 ml sesame oil
salt to taste
half a pinch of togarashi powder

Method:

Prepare the avocado puree by scooping, mashing and whipping with a whisk until smooth.

Add all remaining ingredients to the avocado puree and whisk until fully incorporated and blended. Check for seasoning and adjust if required. Keep refrigerated.

Take the watermelon and cut into half horizontally, removing the outer rind and cutting into 4 rounds with a 2 cm thickness and 9 cm diameter.

Place the cut watermelon in a deep bowl to marinate with the lemon juice, sesame oil, spring onion, sugar, salt and pepper and set aside for 5 minutes.

Preheat the grill and quickly grill the watermelon for about 1 minute on each side or until nice grill marks are achieved, remove from the heat and chill for 10 minutes.

Over a heated hot plate, sear the crab stick and set aside.

With a butter brush, lightly paint the base of the grilled watermelon with sesame oil, then gently press the finely sliced spring onions onto the base of the watermelon to form a crust, shaking off any access onion.

Place the grilled watermelon in the center on the plate.

Place the chilled crab stick on top of the grilled watermelon.

Put 3 dollops of the avocado puree on top and at the base of the crab stick and then garnish with thinly sliced radish, ginger julienne and edible flowers then finally lightly dust with togarashi powder.

Serve immediately.

An Eggy Affair

So I skipped breakfast on that particular day and was suddenly craving my regular breakkie staples in the middle of the afternoon. Now there are ofcourse a ton of places that offer eggs on their menu, I was fairly surprised to find a place with only eggs on their menu!

The Egg Factory, a tiny little joint on New BEL Road bang opposite to the biggest name in the area, Truffles, serves up every possible dish you can imagine that can be made with eggs. Being short of time, we quickly picked out a regular favourite of mine- French Toast with blueberry preserve and cream cheese along with a glass of refreshing carrot juice and Rajib picked out Salsa Eggs served on a sizzler palate with tortillas.

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The place does not have foods that are a work of art but the flavours, the concept and the fact that everything glorifies “eggs” is something that is bound to draw me again. And this time maybe to try something not too subtle! 😉

Mohana Ganguly

Classic French with a Vietnamese Twist? Tune in to TLC

 Being a through and through TLC addict that made my parents complain eternally when I lived back home, I couldn’t be more ecstatic when I heard that they are presenting a new series with acclaimed Australian-Vietnamese chef Luke Nguyen in LUKE NGUYEN’S FRANCE. Luke is back to continue his culinary adventures – this time, in France. Join him as he explores the land that has shaped the food of his native country.

 

Luke’s journey commences in Paris, where he is helped by family and friends as he explores the Parisians’ intense passion for food, decadence and tradition. Then he heads east to witness the imposing medieval architecture of Strasbourg and the unique culinary customs of Alsace. In the dewy mountains of the Franche-Comté, he gets up, close and personal with chefs who have won Michelin stars, tastes dishes made from age-old recipes and uses local produce to create delicious food of his own – with his signature Vietnamese twist. From the very French steak tartare to Luke’s own succulent salt and pepper cuttlefish, it is an adventure of the senses packed with food, fun, and familiar faces.

 

In Lyon, Luke cooks alongside the country’s top chefs and home-cooks. He travels along France’s famed southern coastline from Nice to Biarritz and experiences the generosity of the locals as they not only open up their homes but also share their treasured family recipes. Luke’s journey will also take him through the iconic Loire Valley and later to Brittany where he enjoys French food heritage at its finest.

 On his journeys, Luke will uncover the Gallic influences in Vietnamese cuisine and learn about the art of regional French cooking from locals he meets along the way.

 Discover France’s diverse cuisine as Luke whips up tantalising dishes including classic recipes like melted goat’s cheese on sourdough and French-Vietnamese fusion cuisine. Join him as he unearths a whole new side to French food culture and lifestyle, matching culinary prowess with incredible local produce.

 

Catch the best of French and Vietnamese cuisine in LUKE NGUYEN’S FRANCE every weekday at 8pm, only on TLC! 

 

 

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