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Indo-French Cuisine


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Can anybody shed some light on the cuisine of the erstwhile French Indian territories notably Pondicherry? I heard there exist a crosspollination of both the cultures and that reflect in the food too.

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I visited Pondicherry about a dozen years ago as part of a government-organized culinary tour of South India and looked for evidence of the French influence on cuisine. But alas, I found nothing. There was a tiny hotel whose name I have forgotten run by a very oldFrenchman which probably has long disappeared. The only signs of the French presence were the names of the streets, the wonderful pastel seaside buildings, and the kepis worn by the policemen. Also, most of the older inhabitants spoke a very nice French.I wrote an article about this for the Toronto Globe and Mail.

I've often wondered what would have happened had the French been victorious and become the rulers of India. It certainly would have an interesting effect on Indian food! Has anyone ever seen such a scenario?

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Well, there's always Indochina, but the relevance of their experience under French control is admittedly of questionable relevance to a discussion of Indian cuisine.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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that sounds like the hotel d'europe where i recall having a pretty decent meal 16 or so years ago -sort of the indo-french version of anglo-indian club/boarding school fare.there was a rather nice place (long gone)run by a franco-tamil family that served good steak and chicken marengo, again with that air of a battle with the elements that it likely entailed to produce it hanging over the food.a number of small bakeries produced croissants and baguettes and one in particular made really good meringues .there were also a couple indo-vietnamese places where i recall putting away a goodly number of chaiyos!really not a whole lot to show really but with the boom in tourism and the growing international community of auroville,there does seem to be something of a renaissance

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Guest nimki

I have visited Pondicherry several times over the past 5 years. Susruta is right......I didn't notice any particular culinary french influence there. Though buildings and roads were named in French and the French consulate is painted in the colours of a french (what else?) manicure.....that pastelly peach with a white trim.

<<<<{Satsanga the best place for Sunday brunch, especially en famille or with friends.

Good French cuisine, pizzas and salads in a garden atmosphere. Ici on parle français.}>>>>

I distinctly remember Satsanga as serving Italian food.

The only place I do recall as being remotely French was a Hot Breads shop, run by a Frenchman, which sold all kinds of French bread.

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Um... should we maybe be talking about Indo-Italian cuisine? No, not trying to make any political point, just glad the election is over and I can get back to reading this forum!

I wonder though, could chicken tikka pizza be counted as an example of Indo-Italian cooking, or is that Anglo-Indo-Italian? Or what dish could we do in honour of the occasion? Anything, except of course with a saffron sauce!

Vikram

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Or what dish could we do in honour of the occasion

Fine question.

There are a lot of people eating crow right now, many have the taste of ashes in their mouth as well. And then there are a whole bunch who have visions of milk and honey (and free electricity).

Sonia Gandhi is from the Piedmont, a mountanous region way up in the North of Italy famous for great wines (like Barolo) and also for truffles.

But she is the head of a party that was elected on the back of a populist disenchantment with high-flying rhetoric, so luxury ingredients are out. On the plus side, the Piedmont is also a committed rice-eating region so perhaps an Indian-ized risotto-cum-biriyani can be the signature dish of this possible Indian Prime Minister from the Piedmont.

But there is even an easier way out. The main city of the region, Torino (Turin), close to where Sonia was born, is particularly known for sweets especially chocolate and all kinds of nut preparations. Perhaps, today, her family can distribute hearty Indian chikki instead of laddoos. Perhaps a chestnut burfi can be concocted, or even a chestnut-flavored kulfi. Those both sound very good, and very fitting.

Stunning election results, these.

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Since posting about hypothetical chestnut kulfi, I have been musing a little bit about the older cultural ties between India and Italy.

The contact between the two peoples is ancient, long before any real concept of "India" and "Italy" took shape. At the risk of flying totally off-topic, I'll review a bit of what I know here because (a) it is very tangentially food-related and (b) this post is not likely to draw political-hack-chatter on this site.

Even by the time the Romans came to dominate their part of the Meditteranean, we know that there was considerable trade done with the subcontinent. Part of this was conducted via the Silk Routes, and a great portion via the maritime lanes. Though there is evidence that a broad range of goods were involved, most of this probably involved spices for which the Romans displayed an insatiable appetite. Huge coin hoards found in South India, particularly Kerala, along with contemporary accounts, even indicate that the "Italians" had to grapple with a serious problem with a balance of payments problem.

In various forms, this trade lessened but continued through the centuries. The Venetian Empire did business with the subcontinent, and it is from the accounts of these traders (including Marco Polo, who visited Madras) that another Italian - Christopher Colombus - got the idea to seek out a quicker direct sea route to India.

After the Portuguese beat him to it, we enter into another -more limited, but interesting - type of contact. This next small (but influential) trickle of Italians came in search of souls, not spices. Most were Jesuits, and it is the Italians among them who became the first really persuasive proselytizers in the colonial era in India. Some of these Jesuit pioneers are quite significant, like de Nobili who donned the accoutrements of a sanyasin and sought to achieve the appeal of a pure asetic. There is at least one Italian jesuit who became revered as a scholar and artist in his adopted Tamil (remember, we're talking 16th-17th century here) and who wrote epics in that language.

Most fascinating (to me) is the contact between the Mughal emperor, Akbar, and the art of the Italian (and broader European) Renaissance. At one point, the Great Mughal expressed openness to a Jesuit mission which duly made its way to him and spent some years trying to convert him. Along with them, they took reproductions of paintings by Renaissance (Italian) painters like Michelangelo and even an artist. It's quite funny that the religiosity "did not take" but the paintings did! The somewhat syncretic creations that come out of Akbar's court painters at this time are totally mind-blowing and exceptional.

And so to the modern era. There are plenty of details to fill in the blanks - but the next and final great contact between the Italians (before 20th century tourism and shopping hit) and the Indians took place in WWII. Tens of thousands of Indian troops served with the Allies in the Italian theatre (remember that turbanned sapper from The English Patient). Thousands of Italian POW's were housed in camps in India, though they seem to have left at the end of WWII without leaving much impact. However, I have heard (unreliably) that the man who brought Fiat to India immediately soon after Independence was a former POW who had some affection for the Indians he had met while in captivity.

Now, 2004. The next Indian Prime Minister is quite likely to be the Italian-born Sonia Maino Gandhi.

Edited by bhelpuri (log)
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How long is this Italian-Daal-bhat gonna last ? Few months ? Can we expect pasta to get along with jyoti-basu style manshoer-jhool :hmmm:

On the topic of Indo-French Cuisine, look for it in SGN (Saigon; the venerable Curry BanMi) - curried meat sandwitch [sorry no photos ]

anil

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I was just in Pondicherry in January and checked out both Le Club and Rendez-vous as I was really excited about the prospect of checking out the potential of Indo-french cusine as I worked at Tabla for a year. I was not too impressed by either. They definetly specialize in the the very classic French and haven't really expanded or incorporated Indian elements into their menu's. The Neemrana group has opened up a small boutique hotel there which is charming but again, their restaurant was not impressive. The pastry shop mentioned above was great though - most authentic french bread I've had in India thus far and the pain au chocolat was excellant.

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Folks,

There's a restaurant called La Porte des Indes in London, which says it serves IndoFrench Cuisine .Here's something i picked from the net.

Set up in February 1996, with Mody as executive chef and his wife Sherin Alexander as manager, the 350-seat La Porte specialises in Indo-French cuisine. Mody explains that, like the Portuguese in Goa, the French controlled a few small areas of India. In Pondicherry in the west, the French influence can still be seen: a French Creole population; some crumbling examples of French architecture; dishes with a "French twist".

Ab Bolo!

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Well, there's always Indochina, but the relevance of their experience under French control is admittedly of questionable relevance to a discussion of Indian cuisine.

Questionable relevance??...Do you know how much relevance foreign influence has on the indian cusine?Then we have to stop DISCUSSING about Kababs & Chicken Cafreal coz that have foreign influence.

Somebody can vouch for me?

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There really isn't much Indo-French stuff in Pondicherry and probably not the other ex-French colonies either. One of my grandfathers came from Mahe, the colony in Kerala, and I've never heard of any French inspired cooking from there. There's the excellent Pondicherry bread, of course, but that's about it.

My theory is that the local Tamil cooking in Pondicherry was too individual and different from French cooking to be able to blend with it in any meaningful way. How do such links tend to happen? I'm guessing its when the colonial elites tend to like some native dishes or ingredients, so incorporate them into their own meals; or when the elites intermarry with the natives; or when their cooks, who are drawn from the natives, leave to start their own cooking establishments where they popularise the elite's styles - or their own take on them.

And I think this never really happened in Pondicherry since the French and Tamil tastes were just too different, so there was no interest in eating each other's cooking (French arrogance and Tamil vegetarianism [with the Brahmins, at least] probably played some part too). The result is what you see today in Pondicherry - a few places where you can get excellent classical French food and thousands of other standard eating places.

The only thing which has brought some element of fusion recently has been Auroville and its food industries which are becoming increasingly commercial. They're using local ingredients, but with Western techniques and while sometimes the results are entirely Western, sometimes they create a remarkable fusion - the tamarind jam I was extolling on another thread is an example. Or the financiers that the bakery makes where cashews are substituted for almonds.

Vikram

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Well, there's always Indochina, but the relevance of their experience under French control is admittedly of questionable relevance to a discussion of Indian cuisine.

Questionable relevance??...Do you know how much relevance foreign influence has on the indian cusine?Then we have to stop DISCUSSING about Kababs & Chicken Cafreal coz that have foreign influence.

Somebody can vouch for me?

I think you missed the point. How relevant is Vietnamese, Cambodian, or Laotian cuisine to India?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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