20 Questions With Pondicheri’s Anita Jaisinghani
In the Resy Questionnaire, we play a game of 20 questions with the industry folks behind some of our favorite restaurants. What’s your most memorable restaurant experience? Your favorite food movie? What restaurant would you want to time-travel for?
In this holiday-themed edition, we spoke with Anita Jaisinghani, owner of Pondicheri and Pondicheri Bake Lab + Shop in Houston.
The Resy Questionnaire
1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked for the holidays?
It’s fun to be indulgent during the holidays, so one of my favorite things to cook is a cheesy vegetable baked dish like cauliflower bread pudding. We love it because it brings so much comfort and joy — it’s also a nice alternative to the typical holiday mains. You have to be patient as you wait for all of the flavors to meld together, which gives our family even more time to relax and spend time with one another.
2. Kitchen tool you couldn’t live without?
A wooden spatula with a sharp edge — it’s surprisingly hard to find!
3. What pantry items would you bring on a desert island?
Ideally, I would like to live off whatever I can find on the island, but if I had to choose … ghee, rice, a pot, matches, and a wooden spatula.
4. What’s your go-to dish in Houston?
The vegan mapo tofu from Mala Sichuan Bistro.
5. Favorite cookbook?
I have many! Currently, it is New World Sourdough by Bryan Ford.
6. Your drink of choice for a holiday celebration?
White wine sangria with saffron, hint of cardamom, oranges, and mint.
7. Favorite holiday movie?
The Sound of Music.
8. Your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive?
Chef Nancy Silverton; Asha Jhaveri, the chef and owner of Swati Snacks in Mumbai; food writer Michael Krondl; food historian Lizzie Collingham; and Marryam H Reshii, the food critic of the Times of India in New Delhi.
9. What restaurant industry person do you admire the most?
Chez Panisse chef and owner Alice Waters. I really admire her because she stuck with her vision, and what a vision!
10. The greatest restaurant experience of your life so far?
Swati Snacks, a vegetarian restaurant in Mumbai. I eat there almost every day if I can when I am in town. If Ms. Jhaveri ever opened a restaurant in Houston, I would shut down Pondicheri and go work for her.
11. What do you consider your greatest professional achievement?
I opened two restaurants and I’m still excited to cook every day, and curious to learn new things.
12. What single dish best describes your personality?
Any street food from India (chaats). Salty, spicy, and sweet!
13. If you could go back in time, which restaurant would you dine at?
Vishalla in Ahmedabad, in the late ‘80s. There’s no electricity, so you sit on the floor and eat very traditional tribal food by candlelight and lanterns.
14. Your favorite holiday meal from childhood?
The pooris and seven vegetable stew that we would have for Diwali dinner.
15. Your wish for the restaurant industry?
My wish would be for chefs to embrace local and seasonal vegetables more and cook with less meat. Vegetables are so much more exciting and can provide such great grounds for creativity. We must lead the way in becoming as sustainable as possible.
16. What do you wish you did better? What do you do well?
I try to do everything I do better each time, so that journey never ends — from breathing to cooking a curry.
17. If you could eat through a city for a day, where would you go?
A city in southern India called Hyderabad. I’ve never been there, but have always wanted to go.
18. The one thing you can’t resist splurging on when you go out?
19. What do you value most in restaurants?
The love that is put into the food.
20. It’s your last meal on earth, what are you eating?
Pani poori, saag, or besan mithai from Pondicheri.