A true representation of Pondicherry’s quaint cuisine that boasts of a judicious amalgamation of Karaikal, Chettinad and French techniques of cooking, The Pondicherry Kitchen by Lourdes Tirouvaniziam-Louis takes you through an anthology of recipes that conjure pictures of ancient kitchens where Tamilian cooks worked for European masters and learnt the art of pleasing their palates while retaining their own tastes. Fleeting glimpses of Portuguese and Creole influences may be discerned from time to time as you plough through the recipes. This impact is not to be confused with the Portuguese influence on Goan cooking as the two differ in the basic use of spices native to the region. Some of the recipes are authentic Tamilian while others are entwined with French methods and procedures. Recipes like Ragou (Ragout) Lamb Papillote, Gigot Daube and Petits Pates are obviously French in name but the recipes include spices like ginger, garlic, cinnamon, coriander leaves etc, giving them a distinct Indian flavour and making them native to Pondicherry. Many French recipes within have Indian names with obvious Tamilian influences for example, Mouton Aux Petit Pois is called Pachaiy Patani Curry (Green Peas Curry). There are yet other recipes with French names pronounced as the Tamilian Cook found fit for example, Diavelle Saucu for Sauce Diavelle. To my delight I found inside The Pondicherry Kitchen, yet another version of Vindaloo. I was unaware of the Pondicherry Vindail which has ingredients that are entirely different from its Goan, East Indian and Malayali counterparts. The common vein that runs through all the recipes for Vindaloo are the use of garlic and vinegar.
What I liked about the book:
- The author’s antecedents – she is the product of French colonialism, born of a Tamil-speaking French educated father and a Vietnamese mother and being raised in Pondicherry, which make her the most likely candidate for recording and writing a book on the Pondicherry kitchen.
- The methods of making the authentic masalas that are an inherent part of Pondicherian cooking are lucidly described.
- Several recipes have short descriptions of their origins and serving instructions are given too.
- Tamilian names of the recipes are given alongside their French names making us amply aware of their derivation.
- A delicious example of Indo-French cooking hitherto unheard of and hence a novel kitchen experience.
What I disliked about the book:
- The food photography and styling are a definite disappointment; uninspiring to look at and therefore left untried perhaps.
- The index of recipes could have included the pronunciation of the Tamilian versions which have very difficult-to-pronounce names.
- The dessert section is short and not worth a mention, except for the Creole influenced, “Pondicherry Cake” (Putcherry Caku) which sounds interesting but the quantities mentioned were too large to be practical.
I must admit there is not much to criticize about The Pondicherry Kitchen and I thoroughly enjoyed the results of trying out some of the dishes like, Erral Takkali Parssi (Tomatis Farcis Aux Crevettes) – tomatoes stuffed with prawns cooked in onions and tomato pulp and baked to perfection with a topping of breadcrumbs, and Meen Ellimicham Pajam Roast (Poisson Roti Ali Citron), which is a simple seer fish marinated in garlic, lemon juice, pepper, cloves and star anise, and baked for 15 minutes at 200 degrees C. This book should be an interesting variant to appease the south Indian palate. I suggest you try out some or all of Louis’ recipes that appear to be painstakingly researched and gleaned from old recipe books.
Ed: Cover and in-post photo from http://ambafrance-in.org.