The best Malai Kofta ever
Since you’re heading there… is in Pondicherry, on a side street roughly across the street from Sri Aurobindo’s Paper Factory off of SV Patel Salai. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I think maybe it had “green” in the name, or the building was green. Anyhoo… I dream about it still.
The person who left me this message was Cacahuate, an American who had spent two years traipsing all over the world (of which more than a year was in India) and to whom I shall remain forever indebted for helping me plan my honeymoon at Havelock Island. So I made it part of my mission in Pondicherry to track down and try the Malai Kofta.
Our hotel provided us with a free copy of Repos* which had an excellent map of the city. The guy at the reception helpfully marked out the exact location of Sri Aurobindo’s paper factory, with the comment that it might not be open for inspection in the evening.
“Doesn’t matter!” we said, “for we are going there for the Malai Kofta.” With those words, we (me, wife and mom) set out on a circuitous route that took us through the Aurobindo Ashram (five minutes before closing time), the Manakula Vinayagar temple (where my wife was most distraught that the temple elephant did not bless her, and insisted on feeding it again and again till it finally yielded.), the Bharati park and the Promenade - which is probably the only place in India where you can find statues of such diverse people as Gandhiji, Dupleix and Joan Darc on one street.
We reached S V Patel Salai without much mishap- unless you count bumping into the filming of the movie “Man gaye Mughal-e-Azam” starring Rahul Bose as one. With some difficulty, we extracted mom from the location of the shooting – she was most insistent that we should see at least one shot being filmed- and continued our search for the Malai Kofta.
After asking around for a bit, we finally found the factory. We also found that there was indeed a lane directly opposite the factory. Entering that lane, we found ourselves face to face with a restaurant named “Salt and Pepper”. I entered into a debate with my wife over whether this was in fact the restaurant we were looking for.
“The restaurant’s name does not have green in it.” she said.
“But the light outside the building is green, and it seems to me that the building has an overall aura of greenness to it. I am quite confident that this is what stayed in Cacahuate’s memory. Remember that we are in Pondicherry. This is an intensely spiritual place. These things happen.” I said.
The issue was finally settled by the fact that we were hungry and it was almost 8:30 PM, and if we skipped this, we would have to walk back quite a bit for our meal. We entered and were presented the menu. The menu had two names for the restaurant. On top was “Salt and Pepper”. Below was written… “Green Peas Vegetarian Restaurant”.
“See!” I pointed out. ”I told you this must be the one. The name has ‘green’ in it.”
“OK, but it says ‘vegetarian restaurant’ and I see non-veg dishes on the menu.”
“Let’s ask the waiter”.
So we did. He told us that the restaurant was “close”. He actually meant “closed”, but was also inadvertantly close to the meaning. The restaurant was next door.
“If we hadn’t tarried to watch the stupid shooting, we might have caught it before it closed for the day.” – that was me.
“What sort of restaurant closes at dinner time?” – that was my wife. She decided to check for herself and returned with the sad news that Green Peas opened only for lunch, and no amount of hurrying could have gotten us there in time.
“But wait, this place also has Malai Kofta, and the two places are obviously related. May be they have the same chef?”
So we ordered the Malai Kofta. I don’t want to dwell too much on how it ended – suffice it to say that we either narrowly missed the best Malai Kofta in the world, or Cacahuate has terrible taste in Malai Koftas.
*The online version does not seem to have the map, which is a pity.