What’s in a Name?

One of the most loveable things about Pondicherry is the city’s multi-dimensional name boards. The streets are so well-paved that you’d choose to walk rather than drive. And while you’re walking, you’ll come across plenty of abstract names in fancy fonts. Many a time, I stopped in my tracks to get a picture of those name boards. I didn’t know if they were shops, homes, or cultural centres, but they were all beautiful.

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Trodden and Untrodden

What a year it’s been. 2016 was difficult and, yet, unforgettable for so many different reasons. This year I explored a variety of paths. Some were adventurous, some were tiring, but almost all were fun.

This year, I saw snow for the first time.

This year, I walked through forests a lot of times.

This year, I went high above sea level, looking down at massive land mass.

I’ve had cold breeze gushing behind my ears, the blinding sun warming my spine, and cooling greenery chilling my soul.

It’s been a good year.

I don’t know which path I will head off to in 2017, but I hope it’s as good as the ones in 2016.

Or better, that’s fine too.

paths

Respecting the Maker

Craft is a wonderful thing. The crinkled eyebrows, the watchful eyes, and the delicate fingers all make a craft what it is: a magnificent and complex piece of art. It demands the maker’s energy and time and unlike any other physical activity. It’s one of those things that drain you just even if you’re just sitting in one place with your head bent low.

To an observer, the craftsman is a scientist; a microbiologist. One who’s got eyes for nothing and no one around them. And that’s the beauty of a handmade object. It’s a part of a human’s life that they give away to someone else.

I saw a craftsman in Pondicherry a while ago. He was a shoe and footwear maker. He, along with the owner of the shop, makes and delivers custom footwear for customers about an hour or two after they place an order. But they also have a gallery of ready-made designs to can choose from.

handmade-footwear

While the owner was busy showing us around his little shop, the craftsman huddled with his tools near the pillar outside the shop. His eyes moved in tandem with his hands that stitched together leather and leather.

While his skin exploded with sweat, inside, the quaint shop exploded with colour. Yellow, red, and green straps crisscrossed with brown, black, and grey soles. I saw straight straps on one shelf and curled straps on the other, plain ones lying about and fancy ones folded up neat. The costs varied, too, from a few hundreds to a few more hundreds.

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My friend raised eyebrows at the prices. It was a sad sight. Because there never is a fair price for the labour of human hands.

It’s human to first look at the product and then flip over the tag to check the price. Whether it’s a shirt or a shoe, we consider the price and weigh its worth.

It’s an instinct, yes. Still, when it comes to handmade crafts, what we think is high is never too high. Though we drool at a craftsman work, every time we roll our eyes at the price, we undermine the maker’s efforts. We need to realise: In this age of our lazy bones and sitting on our asses, it’s taxing to work through hundreds of needles and stitches every day.

craftsman

That’s why we should learn to respect the ones who do, because, in a few years, no one will have the patience to dedicate the scrutiny involved in making handmade pieces.

A Chocolate Haven

Call me old fashioned but I fancy chocolate over any other fancy flavours. Whether it’s a hot drink or an iced treat, I’d always go for chocolate. And no matter how much of mint, white chocolate chips, slivered nuts, or trickles of orange you blend with it, plain chocolate (coated with chocolate) has an unmatched taste of its own.

That’s why I felt like stepping into paradise when I stepped into Zuka. It’s a cafe in Pondicherry that celebrates chocolate as much as I do. Even as you walk towards the entrance, a whiff of fresh chocolate reaches out to you, teasing your most determined dietary restriction.

Well, that may be an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

zuka-chocolate-cafe

Stamped on the door was a seal of their brand, in an unsurprising shade of chocolate. And on the inside, they display a shameless amount of chocolate treats, pastries, and cakes. From flavoured tarts to dark-nut truffles, marbled candy to marvelling cakes, every inch of the cafe’s offering reeks chocolate.

It was beautiful.

In various shapes and colours, they sell shortcuts to diabetes. All around me were cars, bunnies, chunks, disks, and brownies—all of them chocolate. And as if that wasn’t enough, there were even melting pots of chocolate. I couldn’t have been happier.

And for the caffeine addict in me, they even had chocolate-espresso mousse, topped with a coffee bean made of chocolate. And to go with that, a coffee-flavoured cake, with a coating of chocolate goodness.

The place wasn’t large. But it was cosy. As soon as you walk in, you’d know you want to grab a chair and spend all day staring at the goodies behind the glass. From its plaided walls to its polished posters, the cafe would’ve made anyone liven up their moods and lighten their wallets. Such artistic interior with everything paying homage to a miracle bean.

I had found paradise in that little cafe. And to add chocolate to chocolate, they seemed to agree with what I profess:

happiness-is-chocolate

Zuka has made it to my list. The next time I’m in town—heck, I’d go into town just for this place.

Zuka Choco-la Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Oh, This Is Pizza!

Pizza—that gourmet Italian food that the world goes crazy for. I never enjoyed pizza.

That’s so because Pizza Hut and Dominos ruined pizza for me. And I realised this only a couple of weeks ago.

When it comes to food, I like mine with a lot of spice. I cherish the steam that the heat invokes in my tongue. I love it when my taste buds tingle and I have to curl my lips and inhale a whiff of air to cool down the heat. However, nothing of that sort happened when I tried pizza for the first time. Instead, a mass of ooey-gooey cheese burst into my mouth, thrusting through my teeth a mesh of coldness, milk that felt like jelly and tasted a bit sour. It was nothing to die for. And a couple of pieces later, I couldn’t get the rubbery, sticky sensation off my teeth.

Not to mention, the cheese sat on half cooked and flaky bread that tried so hard and failed to taste sour. It didn’t help that the bread was called fiery crust while it felt like a feathered crest.

And that’s why I hated pizza.

And then I went to a place called Cafe Xtasi in Pondicherry. The restaurant came with a high recommendation and a higher Zomato reputation. I didn’t feel too keen since it was famous for its wood-fired pizza and I — among myself — am famous for hating all things pizza. It didn’t mean much to me, because, well, it’s just bread and bland cheese. But I decided to give it a try anyway. At least to make a post on Zomato, my rational voice piped.

The first thing that admired me was the menu, not with variety but with creativity. I scrolled through a list of pasta dishes, when one, in particular, caught my eye: Bad Idea. It was the name of the pasta dish and below it read a small description, “Fresh garlic, garlic sauce, feta in white sauce.” Ha, bad idea indeed.

I wanted to try it. But a friend had already advised me against the pasta and told me to go for the pizzas, instead. They are better, he had said. And since it was my first time there, I took the expert’s advice.

cafe-xtasi-pondicherry

The pizza menu boasted names like Chukini, Lambretta, and Harem. I had my eye on Iron Pie, but when our waiter told me Shekchilli would be spicier, I chose that one. “Chicken, capsicum, onion, garlic, and chilli,” the description read. Yum.

The pizza arrived in about 10 minutes taking me by surprise. All the Dominos outlets I’ve been to take at least 20 minutes. And it was steamy, too. It remained warm for about 5 to 10 minutes in that air-conditioned hall—that’s a big deal. However, something else about the pizza caught my hungry eye more than my timekeeping mind: The crust was crusty. It was less than half of the thickness of every other pizza I’d had before, and what’s more, it even had a mild burnt edge to it.

When I picked up a piece and bit into the crust, I bit into a crust and not just a ball of cooked flour. I felt the crunch in my teeth, while spicy sauce seeped into my tongue through the holes in between my teeth. The chicken was tender, sauce splendour, and the cheese just right. The crunch and munch blended, bombing my mouth with tangy, garlicky, and a bunch of pungent flavours.

And that’s when I fell in love with pizza.

Cafe Xtasi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato