As my culinary extravaganza comes to an end we took one final day trip to the city of Pondicherry which is located 3 hours south of Chennai. It is a costal town known for its beautiful beaches that attract visitors from around the world. France ruled Pondicherry (the name for the region) on and off from 1674, alternating with the Dutch and English due to political disputes, until 1816 when it started its last rule that ended in 1954 when Pondicherry became part of India, seven years after the country was formed. 

 

I noticed the French influence right away in the architecture of many of the old buildings. In the downtown section near the beach, the buildings run continuously down the block with high garden walls and elaborate wrought iron gates, balconies with iron brackets, white painted columns built into the walls and wooden shutters. Many of these buildings have been restored and painted with bright colors while others appear to be waiting their turn for facelifts.
 

Street scene in Pondicherry that shows a definite French influence.

Street scene in Pondicherry that shows a definite French influence.

 

We toured the Aurobindo Ashram, a spiritual community that attracts people from around the world. The facility is beautiful and serene with the most beautiful gardens in the courtyard. Built in the 1920s, Sri Aurobindo led the ashram until his death; Mirra Alfassa continued in his footsteps. Very close to the city is an experimental town, Auroville, built in the 1960s by Mirra Alfassa (called “Mother”) with the mission to be a place where all people could live in harmony.
 

Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry is a popular tourist attraction.

Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry is a popular tourist attraction.

 

We had a lovely lunch sitting under the awning in the courtyard dining area at Le Club, the first French restaurant in Pondicherry. The menu includes Indian, French and Italian entrees. I don’t know why but we ordered Indian items: Pondicherry fish cutlets, Hyderabad Chicken Curry and Chicken Pulao. This restaurant caters to tourists who want international cuisine and offers a good, filling meal.
 

Entrance to Le Club, a French and international cuisine restaurant, in Pondicherry.

Entrance to Le Club, a French and international cuisine restaurant, in Pondicherry.

 

This was a very nice trip. I would like to go back sometime to spend more time.

 

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My sister-in-law, who visited Chennai a few weeks before we arrived, is interested in antiques from Kerala and Tamil Nadu so she spent a lot of time searching and buying brass and wood items that she remembers from her childhood at her grandparent’s Parapanangadi home. After shopping for paras in Kochi (Antique Shopping in Calicut), she hunted for barani and other items in Chennai. She was successful at Raja Stores in T. Nagar (a neighborhood in Chennai), just around the square from Saravanan Stores (more about this store later).

 

My husband and I visited the same store; I was stunned when I saw a barani right at the front of the store because it looked very similar to McCoy Stoneware jars that were made in Ohio back in the early 1900s, once popular now only available on ebay.com or at garage sales. The only major difference between the two pots is the color of the glaze: the Indian ones are tan and the American ones are dark brown. Most of the shapes are similar: cylindrical or round.
 

Barrony are used to store Indian pickles for years.

Barrony are used to store Indian pickles for years.


Baranis are kept in kitchens in Kerala, as well as other Indian states, to store sour items like pickles. Some people stored tamarind in them as well. As you can see from the photo the store had a magnificent inventory of baranis. It took me a while to decide which ones I would buy (and could fit in my suitcase); in the end I bought four different ones. I would like to know if the glaze on these pots contains lead. Since I only intend to use them for decoration, lead content isn’t an issue to me. One questions lingers in my mind: why are the American and Indian ceramic pots so similar in design? Who invented the original and how did it get to the other country? Hmm.

 

Traditional Indian brass lamp.

Traditional Indian brass lamp.

 
 
One other item on my shopping list was a pair of brass lanterns. They are incredibly expensive in the U.S. so I haven’t purchased them before. I found some pretty ones about a foot tall that would be perfect on a table or just sitting around for decoration. These lanterns are filled with oil and cotton wicks are inserted around the top bowl before being lit. People all over Kerala light them at night. I remember seeing the magical glow from houses out in the country as we passed by on the train from Chennai to Kozhikode. In the photo I have included the original brass lamp from Kachi’s house in Parapanangadi with mine. It is just half a foot taller but weights 6 pounds while mine weighs a mere 1 pound. The brass is thicker and the design is more sophisticated than my new ones. I suppose it was heavy so it would not blow over in monsoon winds.
 


 
 

Various antique Indian coffee caddies.

Various antique Indian coffee caddies.

Before leaving the store we noticed some tarnished brass pots in the corner of the collection of new brass and copper items. The salesman confirmed that these were antique coffee caddies that servants used to carry morning coffee to the man of the house generations ago. Under the lid fit a brass cup that fit neatly inside from which one would drink. My husband remembers the servant and the brass pot that transported his grandfather’s coffee to the courthouse. In the photo, you can see the tree antique coffee caddies. The two on the right have been polished while the one hiding in the corner on the left is untouched. The jar on the right now proudly resides in my kitchen.


 
  

Next, we visited Pondicherry for our last stop before returning home. What a trip this has been! 
 

 

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On our first day in Chennai, my husband and I walked around the area rather than take a car so we could take our time and check out the sights. One of our first stops was right around the corner from his parents’ flat. On Sardar Patel Road, we ran into three ladies selling flowers. In India, it is popular for women and girls to wear flowers in their hair. They do this partly for looks and partly for the scent. Since they were very inexpensive, we stopped and the ladies had a blast clipping a few strands of flowers in my hair. While I was facing the other way, there was a lot of laughing and giggling behind me. I think I provided them with their day’s entertainment. After I took their pictures, my husband and I continued our walk.

 

We walked a few blocks down to Grand Snacks, which in my father-in-law’s opinion is the best place to buy sweets. Here they sell vegetarian snacks like the curd rice and the Kozhi Paniyaram. Fresh and delicious, the menu is as good as the what ever else they sell.
 

An employee prepares Yogurt Rice at Grand Snacks in Chennai.

An employee prepares Yogurt Rice at Grand Snacks in Chennai.

 

Walking in the heat and sun made me thirsty so we purchased fresh coconuts from a vendor on the street. He picked out two good coconuts, cut off the top with his machete and inserted a straw. How easy is that? (Don’t try this at home.) Coconut water is a healthy alternative to soda and is much more refreshing. As an aside, on another day in T Nagar we tried the water from a red coconut. It is more delicious and sweeter than regular green coconut.
 

Nothing is as refreshing on a hot day as coconut water.

Nothing is as refreshing on a hot day as coconut water.

 

Before we turned the corner to go home, I had to stop at a large fruit stand attended by two parents and their cute little girl. The variety and quality of the items they had for sale was amazing. I picked a several pieces to eat for the next day’s breakfast because I couldn’t decide just what I wanted. The woman offered us fresh lychees that turned out to be, in my husband’s opinion, the best he had ever tasted. Of course, we added a bag of them to our order. I don’t know if you can see it here but every fruit stand we have visited in Chennai, whether someone just selling a few bushels of mangoes or a proprietor of a large stand like the one shown arranges all of their produce in an orderly and attractive fashion. If they have enough of an item, it is always arranged in a pyramid.
 

One of hundreds of fresh produce stands in Chennai.

One of hundreds of fresh produce stands in Chennai.

 

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I eat Indian food several times every week. I cook Indian food every week. With my love of and addiction to Indian food I never thought I would say, “thank goodness for Dominos.” But this summer I came to the conclusion that I love the variety that we eat in the U.S. Let me tell you how I reached this point.

 

While my family and I traveled extensively around India last summer, we visited many fabulous 5-star restaurants and gorged ourselves with the specialties of the house. Of course, the food was out of this world. We also ate at inexpensive everyday restaurants. There, we ate more than our share as well since we didn’t have to worry about our trip budget. We ordered more than we needed so we could taste the chef’s specialties and get ideas for new recipes. Not to be out done, Kachi had spent weeks planning delicious meals in anticipation of our arrival. Consequently, we ate a lot of Indian food.

 

At the end of our trip, my son, the beefeater, reached his limit of Eggplant Curry, Fish Molee and Sambar. In all honesty, I was reaching my limit too.

 

My son was in luck. Just down the street from Kachi’s apartment at the intersection with the main road, a Domino’s Pizza store had been built since my last visit, just a 5-minute walk from home. Adapting to local culture the menu had a large selection of vegetarian pizzas but it had some with chicken – no pepperoni or sausage in sight. After we called in our order, the pizzas were delivered promptly. The pizza came with small packets of crushed red pepper and oregano but no Parmesan. Still, I was impressed with the taste and quality of the pizzas; it was just like we would get at home. Everyone seemed to gorge on the taste of home and the pizzas disappeared within minutes. They tasted like ambrosia.

 

All I could say that evening was “thank goodness for Dominos.”  

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We took a day trip from Chennai to Kanchipuram which is about 2 hours away to see the historic temples. The first one we saw, Ekambareshwarar, is the largest and most popular of the three we saw. I have to say that its size, both its height and the area that it covers, makes it a very impressive sight. Next we visited the Kamakshi Amman Temple since it has the same name as my mother-in-law.

 


Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchipuram near Chennai, India.

Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchipuram near Chennai, India.

 

It was the last one of the day that had the largest impact on me due to its beauty and age. The Kailasanatha Temple was built in the 8th century during the Pallava dynasty which also built Mamallapuram which is about 35 miles away. It is a small, intimate temple that was constructed of sandstone.


As you enter the temple, as in all Hindu temples, you must remove your shoes. We arrived here just before noon with the hot sun beating down on the stones. Since the air termperature was in the mid 90s, the temperature of the stones was much hotter. Stepping on them was painful. We hopped from the street to the temple. I made a quick stop in the grass just to let the soles of my feet have a break. We must have looked like crazy American tourists!

 

Inside the temple grounds, the stones were partially shaded by the buildings so we could walk normally as long as we stayed in the shade. I appreciated that our guide pointed this out to us as we entered so we could take our time and enjoy the amazing works inside.

Art inside the Kailasanatha Temple

Art inside the Kailasanatha Temple

Around the temple and its courtyard is an intricately carved wall. Around the inside of this wall are over 50 small meditation cells in which a person would sit to pray. These nooks were lined with plaster and then painted with beautiful frescoes. Unfortunately most of them didn’t survive the centuries. A man who works with the Archaeological Survey of India pointed out the best ones so I could photograph them. The best preserved fresco had lovely geometric designs painted in many colors of the spectrum.

The walls and pillars that surround the temple and the tower were carefully carved in great detail. The intimate size and the accessibility of the pure beauty at eye level make this one of the most treasured temples of South India. The simple elegance and the history of this temple made much more of an impression on me than any others that we visited.

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