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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pondicherry : Peace , Palette , Paradigm

So it was that time again. I usually take short trips with my yoga friends from Mystic Yoga , from time to time. I was  all excited about this trip even before it got announced officially . Hailing from a punjabi family , you  are never expected to go on a holidays that can be described as  “ tranquil” “peaceful” “holistic” . So as children we usually went to places that were associated with “fun”. Thus, such holidays were a rare occasion . And in our busy lives , we don’t really tend to think of such vacations  either. Thanks to Mystic, I have been able to catch up with myself over the years now . A long weekend in a remote hill station  or in the outskirts always helps to refresh the soul .

Well, besides  all the peace and tranquil mumbo jumbo, I was super excited about the food. A foodie is always a foodie. And when my friends were busy planning meditation sessions, I researched on food and shopping scene of Pondi. They talked about the warmth of the people, I measured the warmth of the pizza oven . They talked about solar energy, I talked about solar power gelato . Who ever knows me well enough, I am all about food . I can talk about food all day, all night and not get bored . Food makes me happy, always .

So  the day began at 3 am, when we landed at the Chennai Airport, and to my surprise, where everything, including the cafĂ© was shut. I MEAN SHUT! So outside the airport we found a lovely filter coffee stall that came as a blessing post a horrid night flight. And we were set to hit the lovely Auroville. As per their set format, we don’t ever stay in the main city. The resort chosen was the Ashoka. We had beautiful Gazebos on  the beach a little away from Auroville. That day, we got going in the direction of the Aurobindo Ashram, sat in peace by the shrine and enjoyed tranquil silence of the place. This was followed by a lovely lunch at one of the iconic colonial hotels of Pondicherry, Hotel Du Parc. The food was pretty average, so I’m  not really going to elaborate on it. 

This was followed by sitting on the rocks at the promenade. The water seemed as exited about the next couple of days as we were. There is something really playful  about  the Bay of Bengal. It calls you , touches your little toe and runs back, as you step forward, it moves a little further backward, and after a few more times, when you least expect, it envelopes all your senses with its magnanimous presence.  And this is exactly what the  waves were doing. Somewhat theatrical, each waver just lured us and welcomed us to the contrasting  peace of Pondicherry .

The night at the hotel was magical,  the sound of the waves singing you to sleep, was pure healing. Each day began with a lovely yoga session by the beach,  followed by soaking in some salty goodness of the sea and then a beautiful South Indian breakfast at the hotel .

The lunch at auroville will  remain etched in my head for long. A great melange of simplicity, freshness and a lot of love . Auroville as a town is so so positive. Where people from so many nationalities live so harmoniously with each other. Just love those cycles, hammocks, some bakeries, organic grocery stores. Simple happy life. Even the fruits here taste so good, I guess it's because that’s how nature wanted them to grow. Organic.

The frequent trips between Pondicherry, Auroville and the hotel made us stop at various stops. One of them being the Sunday market. Apparently, they say , there is nothing that is not available at this market. Mostly second hand stuff, but I did find myself some really cool MODAK moulds, and interesting back scratchers.  Also found the Red Banana or Kerala Banana, that I have never eaten before, and a tamil cousin of our puchka. The best way enjoy a city is by exploring the street food .

The trip ended with sunset at Mahabalipuram. Much to the displeasure of my guide , I was not even slightly interested in the history of the place . I was busy clicking pics of the food vendors and tasting their fare . A bonus to this was the Mamallapuram Dance Festival . A lovely range of performances showcasing  Kathak , Bharatnatyam and Odissi . The sunset , The temple and culture , perfect way to bid farewell .

 I didn’t even spare the tea stop at on the way to the airport . Adyar Ananda Bhawan was a tea and refreshment . I got myself a bag food of goodies and ended on a sweet note with some Dry fruit halwa .

I fell in love with pondicherry , the minute I read about the food scene . Some of the highlights of what we ate were as follows:

Zuka :

Absolutely loved the chocolates at this artisan chocolate shop. They had those stunning coffee truffle. mildly sweet , and a soft yet robust truffle core that cots our palette like fine silk. They even tempered their chocolate well. Tried the miniatures and the the mouse shaped Chocolate Jerry , bothe were stunning.

This baby is pizza heaven . As per the norms of the trip , we were vegetarian . You will not complain one bit post a meal at this place . I am confessing , it’s the tastiest pizza I have eaten in  my life . Mind you , I have eaten a lot of good pizza . The Sauce was perfectly tart , the seasoning was spot on , and the cheese , oh my , was perfect . A drizzle of chili oil and I was it was “ love at first bite” . The best was the Pesto Spinach Pizza , The freshness of the spinach just stole my heart .

I just fell in love with the grocery store . The chocolate they sell is mainly Mason and Co . But the cheese and the banana chips were crazy . They also serve some delicious baked goods . The Lemon Meringue Pie was like music . The tang of the lemon with the contrast of the meringue made me go silent for a while . They even make brilliant brownies , some of the best I have ever tasted .

Matri Mandir :  
First , the aparajita sharbat , light lavender in colour, full of floral goodness , and has medicinal properties. The next was the hazelnut gelato . It was mildly sweet , nutty and made with solar powered freezer . How  cool is that !  

This was followed by some curd rice with rasam and sambhar  and the stunning range of chocolates from Mason and Company .

Sunday Street Market :

I started with some Patti Samosas which were pretty nice and three types of bananas ( I Love Bananas )  The South Indian Cousin of our Puchka , Gup-Chup was quite a surprise . The water looked pretty colourless , but was loaded with flavor , piquant , spicy and had a Kanji like flavor . Simply loved it .

Mahabalipuram :
Well , the couple of hours at Mahabalipuram were like a dream come true. Started an thinly sliced raw mango . coated with chili powder . These were totapuri  mangoes , hence , the skin was thin and they were semi sweet . Next in Line were the Tapioca Chips . Oh My God , they were a riot ! crisp and so different from anything I’ve eaten before . this was followed by tiny gooseberries , they was tossed in a spice mix and tasted brilliant . I also had some sliced pineapple and smoked Palm Roots . and is all that wasn’t enough Some Boiled corn. Very fresh and different from the street food of North or Kolkata .

I am sure I will visit Pondicherry again , this time alone perhaps , Need to be a backpacker and click tonnes of pictures . And as I weave the fond memories of the trip in this story , I long for another few days, a few more dips in the sea and few more slices of that heavenly pizza . Adios !


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Welcoming Spring with Chholiya

There are many signs of spring. Nature has ways of telling us that it is time to change our lifestyle. Change in temperature, change in the time of sunsets,  in the flowers,  in the fruits and vegetables, they all tell us that our bodies are meant to change our eating habits , living habits as time and season. Our ancient scriptures tell us that we should eat seasonal produce, and every seasonal ingredient solves a nutritive purpose in its respective season . yes now we do get certain seasonal fruits all year round, but these hybrid fruits and vegetables don't solve the purpose they intended to do in their actual season .

One such ingredient is chholia , or green chana . this is the pod form of gram . young , sweet , fresh and so different from its brown version. When you walk down lanes of vegetable markets, one sees these vibrant mounds of green chana. unfortunately its a big hit amongst its fans and it disappears as soon as it comes. There is a small bengal variant  which is tender and a rather strong and sturdy patna variety. Both taste very different from each other .   These do not have a great shelf life , so try and  consume them on the same day .

Chholia is also available in bunch form . This is how it actually grows , in pods . as children we used to sit in the sun in early spring and eat these pods. the tender chhola saag is also very tasty . it has this really tender leaf taste , somewhat like morning dew .

I am using both Chholia and Chana Saag and Creating a beautiful recipe. Made a lovely chholia kadhi , in which the pakodas are made with the saag and the chholia is pureed and added into the kadhi. so here goes .


Chholie ki Kadhi

For kadhi

Curd 1 cup
Water 6 cups
2 tbsp besan
Chholia ( pureed ) 1/2 cup 
Red chili powder 1 tsp
Dhania powder 1 tsp
Oil 2 tbsp
Pickle oil 3 tbsp
Onions 2 nos chopped
Ajwain 1 tsp

  • Heal oil and pickle oil and temper with ajwain onions
  • Mix all remaining ingredients together and add the onion tadka
  • Cook till thick ( approx 40 mins )

For pakoda

Pakoda Batter 

Besan 1/2 cup
Onion chopped 1/2  nos
Green chilies 2 nos chopped
Red chili powder 1 tsp
Ajwain ½ tsp
Chopped chana saag 1/2 cup
Pureed chholia 1/2 cup 
Baking powder 1 pinch
Oil for frying 

  • Mix and deep fry
  • Put into the kadhi and simmer till soft

This pakoda batter can be made with soaked daal puree instead on besan and fired on the griddle like a pancake to make a lovely snack that can be enjoyed over a hot cup of tea. Do enjoy this beautiful ingredient  quick it is available only for a few weeks . 

Cheers !