Puducherry restaurants and eateries review plus inexpensive places to stay
Tourists to Pondicherry may not know that eating out is easy, tasty and cheap in Pondi. There are plenty of eating joints which serve inexpensive food and they are very clean too. Most of them have clean toilets. There is plenty for the western palate as well as the Indian. If you are a lover of continental food and baked food then you can go crazy here as you can find authentic western food at affordable prices. From snack and juice bars, bakeries and coffee shops to fancy hotels, Pondy has it all. I guess it’s the presence of a large number of tourists from the west (particularly France) which have made Pondy the way it is. French food is easily available here. Restaurants serving western food tend to dominate, but that could be my impression because we (like most tourists) were moving around mostly in the French half of Puducherry and also the main shopping areas.
Bakers Street has a lovely, warm ambience and a friendly owner. They serve a wide variety of teas and coffees as well sumptuous pastries and pies. A great place to have breakfast or a snack. Prices range from Rs 30/- onwards and one can have a quick cuppa, breaker and dessert for around Rs 100/- A wide variety of teas are available here too. Many in Pondy might find this place expensive and it is so, by Pondy standards of a cafe. But to us Mumbaikars the cleanliness and the efficient service is something we would readily pay for. And as for authentic western food, now that is expensive in Mumbai. The reasonably priced places serve spicy western dishes, red with colour and chillies. The photograph below is taken at Bakers Street.
Le Cafe is not my favourite place but the location is great and this cafe is usually humming with activity. It is difficult to get a table on a holiday week-end. It is right on the beach, and there are many sea facing tables. There are tables on the terrace too. The food is inexpensive and mostly western, with a wide array of coffees available. Tasty pastries, croissants, cakes and pies.
Unfortunately the service here is not so good, at least that was our experience. We have been here at least thrice, twice last year and once this year. Last year our experience was quite bad as we found the waiters quite rude and sullen. However, quite over-eager to serve the foreigners. I had mentioned this in a previous post of mine, and there were some readers who felt that perhaps Indians give lower tips. However, this is not the case here. Most of the foreigners who come here do so on a shoe-string budget, and live in rooms set up by the Aurobindo Ashram, and that is why there are so many places here which offer inexpensive western food. It is the Indians who come here who tend to be flush with money, and no, they do not throw their weight around. I could see well-dressed people sitting quietly and a little sadly because the waiters were ignoring them. No one was quarreling, which I guess one doesn’t want to do so on a holiday! Perhaps there is another inexplicable reason for the difference in treatment by waiters that we don’t know about.
This cafe is run by the government and has been here for donkey’s years. Maybe the waiters know the foreigners personally as many stay here for months, and some for years. The other foreign visitors are often not week-end butterflies, and tend to come back to Pondy again and again.
The third time we visited Le Cafe (earlier this month), we found that the service was better and the waiters more efficient. But their sullenness was visible. Maybe they are underpaid, I am not sure. However, we didn’t mind the slow service or the fact that what we ordered didn’t arrive at all. We were there for a holiday and to breathe in the sea breeze and we loved this place.
A privately run place Satsanga, which serves continental fare, lacks in service as well. The food isn’t great and we had a bad experience here. When we ordered one of their popular dishes they said they had run out, but foreigners who arrived half an hour later were served the same. This restaurant is owned by someone of foreign origin as far as I know. We were also bothered by a heavily smoking Frenchman sitting at the next table who kept turning his head towards us and blowing the smoke right on to our table so as not to disturb his companions. At that time there was no ban on public smoking (last year). The food as I mentioned, isn’t great. We ordered a very expensive salad with a fancy name but all that they gave us finely chopped cucumber and tomatoes with some lettuce, arranged in a fancy design on a plate. No sauces, not even salt and pepper. I would not recommend this place to anyone. We avoided this place on our recent visit.
There is a restaurant called Daily Bread which is a great place for a snack or breakfast. You get good baked stuff here as well as excellent omelettes and croissants. The place is much plainer than Bakers Street, but the service is as friendly and as fast, and this place costs less. We loved this place, because it was bright and airy and had an informal, friendly atmosphere.
There is a tiny place called Banana which has no more than 6 tables (three inside and three outside) which serves inexpensive French food and salads, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. For about Rs 80/- you can get a large filling meal, say, of Pesto Pasta. The picture on the left is that of a vegetarian Ratatouille, a French dish. I did not think the quality was great, but the place is clean, and the food inexpensive by Mumbai standards, and it is authentic western. The only problem is that the restaurant is a mite stuffy, even the tiny garden where there are a few tables. On a week-end there is no guarantee of getting a place in the garden and the tables outside make for very dull seating. The service is good.
There is a fancy hotel called Hotel Promenade, owned by the same man who owns HiDesign, on the main seaside road in Pondicherry. Here you can get a very good buffet on Sundays, and this costs about Rs 550/-. Expensive, but worth it if you are really hungry and are looking for a brunch. There is usually some kind of live performance going on here. Music, and entertainment of a sort. When we visited there was a small singing and playing group as well as a man going from table to table entertaining people with a mime performance.
Another expensive place is Hotel Orient, which is affiliated to the Neemrana group of hotels. The place serves excellent continental food. The place is located at the old Governer’s bungalow, a heritage site. It is a beautiful place and the waiters are well trained. The wide variety of food available here is a treat. Again, mostly western food.
Amongst the Indian restaurants, a popular one is Adayar Ananda Bhavan (J.N. Street), commonly known as A2B, is located at the market place. You get all kinds of South Indian dishes here for under Rs 25/- and also a wide array of sweets and savouries. It is so crowded (at least on week-ends) that it is impossible to get a seat. In any case there are very few tables and most people stand around, often spilling on to the streets. Nearby you will find Indian Coffee House, which is also very popular.
Hotel Surguru is the place to get good quality South Indian cuisne in a great atmosphere. It is an air-conditioned place, is clean and has a clean toilet. Foreigners as well as Indians frequent the place. The service is very prompt.
There are other small restaurants like Madame Shanthe’s and Hotel Chettinand, which serve fairly okay food and fall in the medium price range.
It is important to remember that at all places tourists need to drink mineral water as much of the drinking water in Puducherry may not be tap water, but well water. There is no guarantee of it being filtered adequately. This will be added expenditure in Pondycherry.
I have not given the addresses of these places as they are all within a very small distance of each other. If you stay in French Town then almost all of them are within half an hour’s walking distance. Most of them can be found by asking at your hotel.
Places to stay:
The places which are very clean, beautiful and yet inexpensive to stay in are mostly either run by the Aurobindo ashram or are associated with the ashram. That is why they have rules like no drinking and smoking on the premises. In some places they also close the gate after 10:30 p.m. We did not find it a problem as we were there only for a few days and we had no intention coming back late. Also drinking can happen in any restaurant where one goes and there are plenty of those there.
We had stayed in a place called Vatika last year and it is associated with the ashram. The rates are around 1200/- for a double room. Food is not included. You do not get room service.
There are other ashram places which you can check out as well. There are similar rules here, at least about the drinking and smoking. We know someone who had stayed at the Seaside guest house, which is facing the sea and they were happy with the place. Some simple non-AC rooms are available for around Rs 600/-.
It’s best to clarify the details with the people themselves, about tea and breakfast, and whether they will provide it. Mostly they don’t and at Vatika there was no facility for hot water for a bath but on asking a man came up with a bucket of hot water for each of us. Mostly foreigners frequent these places.
(All photographs are by me and copyrighted)