Ooty, the magical hill station with mist laden mountains with crisp, clean, eucalyptus scented mountain air, picturesque towns and villages and most important of all, amazingly unforgettably decadent homemade chocolates! This “Queen of Hill stations” nestled in the Nilgiris which once played host to the Royals and British officers during the summertime away from the suffocating heat of the plains might be free of said British and Royals, but is still a favourite among folks of all kind as a cool paradise from the cloying heat and smoke choked air of the cities! We’ve talked before about where to stay, what to do and where to eat in our earlier blog posts (Check them out here), but we’ve never had a chance to explain about Ooty chocolates and why you shouldn’t miss them (not even if you’re on a strict diet). Ooty’s tryst with chocolates and baked goods is a long forgotten one that has been deemed to the murky past which few might remember today, but fortunately for those of us in the present the sale of such goods wasn’t forgotten. Though of top quality it seems to elude publicity and isn’t promoted in any way by the tourism department, God knows why because there’s a gold mine right there waiting to be exploited! Well we thought, let’s get ahead of the tourism department and let the people know of the goodness that Ooty has to offer.
Let’s explore the bakeries first. The bakeries in Ooty are a joy to the eyes, nose and taste buds! Man do they dish out some great stuff! While the delectable brownies or plum cakes should be on your list, you really should try one of the crumbly, buttery, flower shaped cookies that are called Ooty biscuits but known locally as Varkey. It’s basically tongue meets nirvana, and teamed with a steaming cuppa you’re already on your way to heaven! Incidentally this baked biscuit has quite the humble origin; it started out as a poor man’s biscuit in Coonoor. The story goes that on a cold wintery day in Coonoor, when the sky was a light blue with puffy little, lamb-shaped clouds, a poor baker misfired on the consistency of the puff pastry. To escape detection and maybe punishment, he rolled them into balls and baked them. The result was light, flaky biscuits which he displayed along with the day’s baked goods. A customer who stopped to try these new creations, liked them, and asked what they were called. And the owner of the bakery, with his tongue firmly in cheek, replied, “Varkey”, the name of the baker who had mistakenly created it. Poor man’s biscuit or not, it’s quite loved by both the rich and poor! So do yourself a favour, go to Kingstar Confectionery and get yourself loads of these wonder bites or you’ll live to regret it. If you happen to be visiting Coonoor on your trip to Ooty, do visit Crown Bakery, right in the heart of Coonoor town, they’ve been baking delights such as Varkeys, honey cakes and hot cross buns since 1880.
And off the Varkey path, we have the less famous but equally delicious Appus. Appus are delectable roundels of sweet, flaky puff pastry with sugar and coconut between the layers and to make matters sweeter than they already are; they are also rolled in sweetened grated coconut! If this doesn’t give you a sugar rush, we don’t know what will! And if you’re really not that into sweets, these bakeries do have savoury versions of the Varkey. Tea time will never be the same again, we promise you!
Next we have chocolates. The air in Ooty carries two distinct scents, near the mountains you get the eucalyptus scented air and in Ooty town your olfactory senses are assaulted by chocolates! Ooty is a haven for the chocolate lover and it is quite unlike your Toblerone, Snickers, Lindt or other commercial bars available. The place has an unmistakeable yet unspoken connection with chocolate, so much so that it has become a cottage industry. These are homemade and absolutely delicious; the fudge alone is to die for! And again Kingstar Confectionery is where you should be heading even though stores selling chocolates are a dime a dozen, Charing Cross is full of stores which sell Ooty chocolates. Ooty chocolates is synonymous with Kingstar Confectionery and they have been around a long time (since 1942) and they’ve had a lot of time to get it right, which they have. While they do have regular, plain chocolate they do have some interesting flavours like milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, with almonds, cashews, walnuts, raisins, rum, strawberry, fig, mango, and blackcurrant to tickle your taste buds. For the diabetes patients and health conscious people, they also offer sugar free chocolates. It sure can’t get better than this. And if you really don’t want to buy even though we really insist that you do, at least for others if not for your sake, then just looking at these moulded, tiny morsels of chocolicious goodness, gaily wrapped in colourful paper, sitting patiently and prettily under glass domes to tempt even the most saintly is a sight no one should miss. The good people of Ooty sure do know how to make raw cocoa into some really good looking pieces of chocolate, a talent that few can boast of! If you’re one of those people who’s best friends with lady luck, then you can ask someone if they know anyone who makes chocolates and you can watch them. Chances are pretty high that the someone you asked might know someone who knows a “someone” who makes chocolates! So ask if you can watch the process of chocolate making and treat your senses to something is indefinable as you watch the molten chocolate being moulded into a delicacy.
Trust us, this gastronomical walk through Ooty’s bakeries and chocolatiers will stay fresh in your memory for all time. You’ll never see the Nilgiris through the same eyes again because they’ll be tinted a delicious chocolate brown for all eternity.