The seaside town of Pondicherry, (now officially known as Puducherry), is one of South India’s foodie highlights. Its unique cuisine combines the remnants of centuries of French occupation and influence – you’ll still find pastries and fresh baguettes in bakery windows – with vibrant and diverse Tamil and Bengali fare.
Once known as India’s French Riviera, Pondicherry is one of South India’s most culturally diverse port cities. Aside from centuries of colonial invasion (mainly French, but with brief periods of Portuguese, Dutch, British and Danish rule), the city also neighbours Auroville, an experimental township based on the radical teachings of Sri Aurobindo. Though Pondicherry was liberated from French rule in 1954, the tree-lined boulevards and seaside promenade still remain.
The city’s reputation as a melting pot of East-meets-West is never more pronounced than with its vibrant culinary offering. You could be eating omelettes and galettes in a crumbling French-style villa one day, and a fiery thali from an aluminium tiffin tray the next. Aside from these cultural way-markers, Pondicherry’s access to fresh seafood, verdant countryside and a steady stream of international visitors only serves to accentuate this heady mix. From street food stalls to sophisticated fine dining restaurants, Pondicherry has something for every taste.
Auroville Dining Room and Dreamer’s Cafe
No visit to Pondicherry is complete without a visit to Auroville and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a spiritual community built around a century ago. There are various eateries within Auroville’s large complex, serving completely organic food, ice creams and drinks, as well as a few guesthouses. The sparse yet welcoming Dining Room is billed as much more than just a place to eat: it is a veritable community centre, where members of the ashram and visitors can come together to share a meal and engage in conversation. The food served in the dining room is simple and nourishing, with an emphasis on vegetarian cooking. For something a little more international, the on-site Dreamers Cafe has a hip outdoor terrace and trestle table vibe, with homemade kombucha, artisan coffee, fresh fruit smoothies, gelato and salad bowls.
Sri Aurobindo St, Pondicherry, 605001
Cafe Des Arts
Undoubtedly the city’s best place for breakfast, the Arts café is a peaceful haven of whitewashed backpacker-chic perched along a hot yellow road. It has friendly service, a nicely curated (if slightly more pricey) gift shop attached, and is a lovely place to bury your nose in a book. Delicious smoothies can be made with any combination of fresh fruit that has been delivered that morning. A huge bowl of granola, curd and fresh papaya, banana and mango is the best way to start the day, and the waffles, crepes and croque monsieurs are also worth trying for a more international start to the day.
10, Suffren St, White Town, Puducherry, 605001
Sree Andra Tiffins
Don’t be put off by the unassuming hole-in-the-wall exterior – Shree Andra Tiffins in Pondicherry’s sprawling suburbs serves some of the best dosas (flat rice pancakes, stuffed with vegetarian fillings) and idlis (fermented rice dumplings) you’re ever likely to taste. If you take your lead from the tuk-tuk drivers, construction workers and local families crammed onto every table and decide to give it a whirl, you are very unlikely to regret it. The mostly vegetarian menu of Tamil and Telugu flavours changes daily, but always includes at least one type of dosa. Save room for an appam, a Tamil dessert which is essentially a hopper filled with sweet, warm coconut cream. Food is served on a banana leaf, and you’re given a jug of water to wash it yourself.
192, Ambalathadayar Madam St (formerly Kosakadai Street), Heritage Town, Puducherry, 605001
Coromandel Cafe and Restaurant
Formerly known as the much-loved restaurant and interiors shop La Maison Rose, the opening of The Coromandel Cafe and Restaurant a few years ago has taken this atmospheric villa from good to great. Expect an old-world charm throughout the beautifully-restored property, and some top-notch French and Italian fusion cuisine to boot. Headed up by entrepreneur and chef Jay Adams, you might find a green chilli, curry leaf and goats cheese tortellini on the menu one night, or some spicy grilled prawns the next. It’s not cheap by local standards (mains are around 500rs), but well worth a visit while you’re in Pondicherry. There’s also an eclectic cocktail and bakery menu, both of which make liberal use of edible flowers. Book in advance during peak season, as it gets busy.
8, Romain Rolland St, White Town, Pondicherry, 605001
Bread and Chocolate
Primed for Pondicherry’s community of digital nomads, tourists and slightly more discerning backpackers, Bread and Chocolate’s ethos is all about using top-quality ingredients to serve what the people want. Sometimes that’s fiery Goan flavours with an Asian twist – as with their recent pop-up from Bangalore-based chef Rhia Aaron – and other times it’s a plant-based Buddha Bowl or simply a really good pain au chocolat. Their sourdough pizzas are a staple on the menu, as are their classic brunch dishes. Aside from the food, the 90-seat rooftop restaurant is also one of the trendiest spots in the city, with a vibrant calendar of live music and other events.
6, Marine Street, White Town, Pondicherry, 605001
For mouth-watering seafood caught just a few miles away, it doesn’t get much better than Satsanga for a special occasion. The upscale restaurant serves a mix of French and Indian cuisine, presented with panache by the friendly and passionate team. The restaurant works closely with local farms to get hold of organic vegetables, but the stand-out dishes are invariably from the ocean: honey and ginger jumbo prawns, for example, or whatever the catch of the day might be. The spacious courtyard is an excellent spot for a long, lingering dinner on a warm night.
Location: La Bourdonnais Street, White Town, Pondicherry, 605001
For anyone trying to find a fully vegetarian, Western-style lunch spot in Pondicherry, Domus ticks all the boxes. Located in the back of an interior design boutique, you’ll find the leafy courtyard tucked away and secluded from the hustle and bustle of the main street. The food is healthy yet nourishing, with toasted sandwiches, tropical fruit smoothies, and European salad ‘thalis’ – a mixed platter of locally farmed vegetables. Pick up some charmingly retro enamel tableware as a souvenir from the gift shop before you leave.
6 Rue Suffren Street, White Town, Pondicherry, 605001
Known for serving the best dosas in the town, Surguru is a stalwart vegetarian restaurant in the heart of Pondicherry. So popular is Surguru, they now have four restaurants across the city – head to the Mission Street branch for the most elegant of them all. It’s no wonder the Surguru eateries are always packed at lunchtime – the food is excellent value, and the sheer variety of dosa fillings is reason enough to keep visitors returning time and time again. The kitchen team are especially adept at making the famously thin paper dosa, but the Ghee Masala Dosa remains the perennial favourite of the masses.
No. 99, Mission Street, Pondicherry, 605001