Franco-Pondicherry Food — an absurd combo or fabulous fusion?

As a die-hard francophone, I can safely say that I am slightly biased towards all things French. Fashion, fragrances, art, wine and, in most cases, the food. When I was invited by the ITC Grand Maratha in Mumbai to sample the latest menu at their restaurant Dakshin Coastal, I couldn’t have been happier. I have always maintained that the ITC Group is far ahead of all the other Indian luxury hotel chains in terms of their Indian food offerings. I was then told that I would be sampling the new Franco-Pondicherry menu. Fascinating and exotic as it sounded, the history behind this cuisine is rich and goes back many centuries. The tiny region of Pondicherry was colonised by the French for a long time and hence, even today, traces of France and French culinary traditions are visible in Pondicherry. It is interesting to think about how the Pondicherry locals and the French colonisers, were required to adapt traditional Tamil food to the European palates. Using local ingredients, changing textures and more… it must have been difficult, but the results today are wonderful. And this is what I experienced.

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The main courses were served to us on a heavy silver thali, just as it should be, so I got a chance to try out as much as possible.

So how does Franco-Pondy food measure up against regular Tamilian fare? Well, for starters, the textures and flavours are far less robust. The thick gravies that we know so well are considerably thinner, like the French sauces. Even the style of cooking, I’m told, is slow and elaborate. The spices are far more discreet — the masalas do not overwhelm. photo 2

 

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Following a basket of poppadums, the meal started off with a Pondicherry Rasam, served in a glass mug, usually used for Irish coffee. Comforting and delicious is how I would describe this interesting take on the regular rasam. The coconut milk toned down the sourness of the tamarind resulting in a milder but more flavoursome version of the otherwise pungent rasam.

This was accompanied by deep fried potato wadas, which were also good. The masala coated fried prawns were exquisite. All this set the tone for a wonderful meal that was to follow.

Next came the green chilli spiked mutton curry. The deliciously green gravy with succulent pieces of lamb had everyone at my table raving.
Next came the green chilli spiked mutton curry. The deliciously green gravy with succulent pieces of lamb had everyone at my table raving.

 

The Kozhi Tangai Paal Curry was Dakshin Coastal’s light, delicate version of the traditional chicken stew. With slights hints of a Thai curry (blame it on the coconut milk), the stew went perfectly with the appams.
The Kozhi Tangai Paal Curry was Dakshin Coastal’s light, delicate version of the traditional chicken stew. With slights hints of a Thai curry (blame it on the coconut milk), the stew went perfectly with the appams.

 

A special mention for the appams, which were so soft and think, I’ve never eat better in this part of the country.
A special mention for the appams, which were so soft and think, I’ve never eat better in this part of the country.
My favourite main course t was the Meen Vindail, which looked like a regular fish curry but which tasted quite unusual. The coconut milk curry got an unusual pick-me-up with the addition of vinegar. Enough for me to ask for a second helping.  The Vadoumai Kurma vegetables cooked in a thickened almond gravy reminded me of the north Indian kurma and wasn’t something I hadn’t already tasted before.
My favourite main course t was the Meen Vindail, which looked like a regular fish curry but which tasted quite unusual. The coconut milk curry got an unusual pick-me-up with the addition of vinegar. Enough for me to ask for a second helping.
The Vadoumai Kurma vegetables cooked in a thickened almond gravy reminded me of the north Indian kurma and wasn’t something I hadn’t already tasted before.
I found the fusion between the French and Tamil culinary styles most evident in the dessert, since they saved the best for last. We tried small toasty baguette slices soaked in cardamom flavoured coconut milk. The crispy baguette slices (laden with ghee) went perfectly with the super delicate coconut milk. The Pondicherry cake made with semolina, had the texture of a sweet granola bar and went well with the rose petal basundi.
I found the fusion between the French and Tamil culinary styles most evident in the dessert, since they saved the best for last. We tried small toasty baguette slices soaked in cardamom flavoured coconut milk. The crispy baguette slices (laden with ghee) went perfectly with the super delicate coconut milk. The Pondicherry cake made with semolina, had the texture of a sweet granola bar and went well with the rose petal basundi.

Dakshin Coastal wins on all fronts — service, hospitality, décor and, of course, food. In my eyes, the ITC group retails its top spot as India’s F & B leader.

At a personal level, I enjoyed every morsel of my meal. But I have to say that my taste buds still tend to veer towards the more robust, spicy, fire hot flavours of traditional Tamil, Chettinad or Kerala fare. That being said, this tempered down version of traditional Indian food is bound to find takers among foreigners who enjoy Indian food but don’t necessarily appreciate its pungency.

 

 

 

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