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Pondicherry - India : no longer "eat to survive"

I have just read my Indian blog posts again. It's just over three weeks since our arrival. I must apologise as I have so far, singularly failed to capture the outstanding beauty of this country. Redress is required.

My only real excuse is that it has taken us this time to adjust and appreciate. It certainly justifies our decision to stay put for a while in one place.

(Selva, at our favorite sea side stall)

What will you do? Won't you be bored? There is so much to visit in India, don't you want to see that? Our answer was simple. We just don't know if its a good decision or not, but it feels right.

Now, sitting here in the peace of our terrace, under the shady woven roof, cooled by the Bay of Bengal breeze, looking out over the rainbow of painted fishing boats, it feels like exactly the right thing to have done.

We have immersed ourselves in a tiny corner of India. Privileged wealthy travellers in a particularly beautiful and culturally unusual part of India we certainly are. There is no way we could ever claim to get under the skin of such a vast country in the five weeks we have here. But I am now convinced that it is possible to get a real insight into one place. And, in my opinion, that is a magnificent experience.

Three good friends have been out to share our experience over the past week. They went home today. We felt very able to welcome them and act the tour guide. I felt quite proud, as though we were showing them round our place. I know they felt, like us that Pondi is way more than a two day stop over on the way to Kerala.

This is a travel blog, but I'm not going to attempt to tell you what to do if you ever come here. I will tell you just that its an extraordinary place.

I can honestly say that we have yet to be bored. Not even short of things to do. According to a travel agent we met here, the average tourist stays in Pondi for two nights. That gives long enough, he told me. I had just told him we were staying a month, " are you mad?" he replied. Au contraire!

I will share with you some things that are genuine positive revelations to me. In this blog I shall confront my own (prejudiced) low expectations of the Indian culinary experience.

Food. To cut to the chase, the food is a wonderful and a hugely elevated contrast to both our previous Indian experiences.

Partly this is because we have our own rented home (AirBnB) with kitchen facilities. Partly it's because Pondi is a former French territory. But mostly it's because food standards have changed almost unrecognisably in the last 35 years. We have identified two vitally important elements that have changed here.

Firstly, the internet and general schooling have arrived. So everyone now appears aware of basic food hygiene rules. Filtered water is standard. Secondly, and I think most importantly, the uninterrupted power supply unit (UPS) has come into general use. Power cuts, several times daily, remain a normal part of Indian life, but the UPS now kicks in. The fans keep running, basic lighting is available, but vitally the fridge freezer continues to whine away.

In summary, the standard advice to UK tourists coming to India will go something like this. You will get diarrhoea, there is no avoiding it. No salads, drink bottled water, check the seal on all drinks before consumption, stick to veggie curries, avoid street food, stick to specific recommended "western" style restaurants, don't have ice in your drinks, wash your hands until the skin is dry cracked and raw. Eat really boring food and don't expect any gastronomic joy until you land back at Heathrow.

This could not have been further from our experience so far. I still wake every day expecting an eggy burp and a dash to the toilet. It's ingrained in us. Especially as primary health care professionals, who have rolled out travel advice uncountable times over the last 35 years.

So far we've eaten street food, had our take away suppers cooked in beach front shacks, lived on filtered water, stopped checking the seals on bottled water, consumed delicious iced cocktails, found liquor stores replete with French wines, eaten the most incredible South Indian Thali's (with our hands), purchased banana leaves as plates, shopped for fresh fish and prawns in the oldest grottiest looking local markets, stopped saying "not too spicy" in restaurants, prepared our own salads using the freshest produce, retained some skin on our hands, and not a tummy issue in sight.

I'm running a controlled experiment to test a mates theory that mango Lassi is the answer to maintaining the gut biome whilst in India. So far the no-Lassi arm of the trial is just as healthy as the Lassi arm. So that's likely to be utter rubbish.

(Brunch at Coromandel Café Pondi)

( the most inappropriately named French bakery)

A remnant of its French colonial past, Pondi is famous for its fabulous bakeries. The Pondicherry coffee company distributes the best ground coffee I've ever had from its premises in Goubert Market. The brunch menu at Coromandel cafe is the best I've tasted, anywhere in the world.

(Threading jasmine in the market)

The fact that India is affordable will not come as a revelation, but I hope readers will be vaguely interested to know that it remains really pretty hard to spend more than £10 (even in a fancy western style restaurant) on eating out. Wine is however an exception, as it is slightly more expensive than in Europe. Drink the Kingfisher beer and be done with it.

(My pomfret was undoubtedly fit for Jehovah)

Ten fresh fish, adequate for a large meal for five people, costs £2 when bought on the sand straight from the boats. We had planned to buy regularly. But Selva our favorite chef (in beach front shack number 7), does the haggling, cleans, marinates in wonderful aromatic spices, cooks the fish, provides rice, Dahl, and paratha, enough for five of us. Then delivers it to our terrace. For £15. That's including a slightly drunken 500 rupee tip. Bloody marvellous. (100 rupees is a pound sterling).

Vegetarians be warned. This paragraph may need to be skipped. The meat market. No fridge required. I only know about chicken in the market. But we did have an incredible urge for steak the other day, and the fillet steak was London standard too. The chicken process is brutal and as raw as the average tourists alco-gelled hands. But its the freshest, least fly ridden process known to man. One chicken is prepared at a time, only when an order is received. Pulled from the cage, throat cut, plucked and chopped to order. Bagged and carried away by the customer. No fridge required. I watched, both appalled and enthralled, as one was prepared every minute.

In the fish market a kilo of delicious shell on prawns is 300 rupees. I could go on endlessly, but that would be a proper travel blog with recommendations, and these are, of course, just my musings.

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2 Yorum

David Simpson
David Simpson
26 Şub

Loved to read your blog, clearly not as mad as I thought you were.



David Price
David Price
23 Şub

All of this news is exactly what I was hoping for. I’m delighted that staying put is the new Grand Tour.

Very pleased too to de-bunk Jane’s Mango Lassi theory, delicious as they are.

Wish we could have been part of your visitor group, but in a way I’m glad you’re maxing out your time alone. Loving the blog. X

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