Today we bring to you a qucik interview with talented chef and dance instructor Kash D. Timmers of Travelers Cafe/La Casita in Pondicherry in which she discusses her love for dance, momos, Pondicherry and more. Read away!
So how long have you been based out of Pondicherry?
It has been about 5.5 years now. Before that I was in Delhi.
Did you always want to have a cafe and dance studio in one location? How did the idea to merge both come about?
I was already teaching dance in Delhi, but I didn’t have a studio of my own. I also didn’t want a studio of my own, but I didn’t know what I did want. I was actually lost n Delhi. I didn’t know what I wanted. After I came to Pondicherry and I saw all these cultural activities happening and how people were open to it. I was teaching in another cultural center called TouchWood. It was a beautiful place that had a dance studio, cafe and library. After working my brain a little bit I said, ok, a cultural center which is related to what I do is better, and I was teaching Salsa. But, only teaching Salsa was not enough to bring in enough people, so that’s how the cultural center came up. At first I was wondering if it should just be Cuban because I teach Salsa, but then again, I thought there are a lot of Latin American dances and activities going on here, so if we can promote them, it will reach a lot more people. Thee cafe happened because I was already doing momos from home for the past two years and I wanted a small place to have momos where people can come and take it.
So, more of a to-go?
Yeah. Then I also realized while teaching that my students liked hanging out after classes. We’d go to cafes or some party after class. They wouldn’t leave the studio, and we all were talking. And, in the end the whole idea is not to just teach dance but also culture, and teaching Salsa is teaching social culture. So, the idea of a cafe was nice because we don’t have to go out all the time–there is an option.
I decided to call it Travelers Cafe because I wanted a place where travelers can come and eat for not too expensive. I wanted to offer basic simple food, but not too spicy because people complain food is too spicy. I realized people like my food, and I like coking, so I though,t ok lets do a Travelers Cafe where we have basic things, not just momos, but some dishes from Latin America. We have a few items from Latin America, but not too many because I don’t meet so many people from Latin America who can teach me the recipes.
What are your plans for expanding the menu? Also, are you going to open more branches?
At the moment we are not adding more locations, but yes, we want to expand our menu. But, it depends on who comes in to help me. If someone stays for long time, then of course, yes. But, if someone is passing by, we could have a monthly theme or weekly plan. I don’t have a fixed plan. I take it as it comes. We have been around since September of last year.
Could you take us through the process of building out the menu?
I was already making momos and Tibetan food. Since our menu was very small initially, I thought I’d add something else, but didn’t want to keep it too Tibetan. I made a few dishes at parties and people said it’s really good, so I did it again, and people still said it tastes really good, so I remembered the recipes and recreated them for the cafe. 1-2 recipes I took from Google for the Latin American dishes. One of the desserts came about because our Tango teacher’s sister was passing by and she spoke of this delicious food and I tried to make it and it worked. It was a step-by-step process. Most of the menu was in place from day one, but the final menu took two months to set. I wanted to keep the menu simple and finalized on dishes that were easy.
Do you mainly get travelers or students at the cafe?
Over the weekend we get more travelers because we got a good review on TripAdvisor. But, on weekdays we have activities going on so more students come before or after that. Lots of people order momos as takeaways from us, too. So, the crowd is mixed. But, I am very happy that more local residents are coming in because they heard about it so want to try it out. Most of the people come in because they have heard about our momos and end up trying other things, too.
How long does it take to make momos? Could you walk us through the process? Is it really time-consuming?
Time consuming – yes, it is. For veggie momos, first you have to grind the veggies, then mix them in proportion. You need to make the maida. Then, you ned to flatten each of the momos. After all that, you steam them for 20 minutes. The whole process takes about 45 minutes to an hour, and you can make about 60-100 momos at a time. If you’re fast, it averages about 1 minute per momo. Right now we offer steamed and pan fried momos. We avoid deep fried momos because it wastes a lot oil.
What are some of the top veggie dishes, besides momos?
Aloo tarkari. It reminds me of my childhood. I lived in Sikkim, and used to eat a spicy version of it and it was really good. I have fond memories from my childhood of this and I tried to recreate it. It works really well. We have the spinach dip which is very good, but for some reason people initially hesitate to order it, like the cucumber juice, probably because it is spinach (laughs). The veg stew is nice, as well.
What’s your favorite place to eat at for veggie food in Pondicherry?
Any cooking tips for veggie people?
Soya! I love using soya. Whenever I make veggie food and am kinda lost, I use soya chunks, whether it be in veg curry or fried rice.