Hearth and Home

In the hills of Bir Billing, the international paragliding site, is Avva’s Cafe, serving home-cooked South Indian meals.

“She loved cooking but most of all, she loved it when everyone she cooked for enjoyed her grandmother’s secret recipes. Years flew by and now she had a little one of her own. He grew up on his Avva’s yummy delicacies and his great grandmother’s stories….. Avva got a piece of her home and childhood with her to the hills. Today nestled between the hills, all she wants from the bottom of her heart is for everyone to experience her ageless recipes. Full of memories, flavours and of course, love…,” read the opening lines of the menu card at Avva’s Cafe, in Bir Billing in Kangra.

Avva in colloquial Telugu language means mother. At the heart of India’s most sought after paragliding site, Bir Billing in Kangra (Himachal Pradesh) – a sleepy little town with more than 80 cafes and bakeries, Buddhist monasteries, Tibetan shops and rainbow skies with paragliders in every hue flying like birds – stands the unique Avva’s Cafe- Flavours of Southern India.

At “Parindon Ki Nagri” Bir Billing (known as the village of birds with a para-glider in every home), Avva’s Cafe is the only pure vegetarian place serving authentic South Indian meals, cooked by Sunanda Dikonda (48), who runs the cafe with her husband Anil Dikonda (60). Their son Suraj, an advertising professional in Delhi, “gifted” her the cafe after recognising her cooking skills. The couple, natives of Andhra Pradesh, were initially reluctant to move to the hills in North, leaving their city Pune, but agreed later.

“It took eight months for our son to convince us to shift here and leave our city Pune. He wanted his mother to serve her authentic and sumptuous South Indian meals to people in the North. He visited Bir Billing on a trip and thought of this idea to open a cafe for his Avva (mom). Today tourists are amazed when they see a pure vegetarian South Indian cafe here,” says Anil Dikonda, adding that open now for about a year, the cafe has created a fan following of its own with home-cooked delicacies made by his wife.

Anil, who left his transport business in Pune, laughs and says, “The most difficult task in running a South Indian cafe in hills is to procure coconuts and curry leaves. Without coconut chutney, South Indian flavours are incomplete. We get them from Delhi in bulk.”

The strong aroma of cardamom, mustard seeds, spices and lemons, coconuts and sandalwood incense sticks provides the authentic South Indian flavours. As for the interiors, there are wooden benches to sit and these are placed on stone pebble flooring.

Sunanda says that each recipe is from her grandmother’s kitchen and she even prepares the ‘sambhar masala’ on her own, using different spices and condiments, to get the authentic flavour.

Chettinad dosa (with tamarind masala flavors), podi dosa (with ground dry spices), Maysore dosa, Ghee roast dosa, puligara rice, Avva’s special dosa, Omaa rice, uligadda poha, podi idli sambhar, chettinad uttapam, paayasam- every South Indian dish is given a new twist by Sunanda and meals range from Rs 100 to 300. The traditional South Indian drink ‘rasam’ with boiled chana is served complimentary alongside. “We also prepare meals without onion and garlic for people who demand that,” she says.

“There is just one USP of this cafe, and it is that there is nothing ready-made here. I prepare everything on my own,” says Sunanda. “I get the biggest reward when some customers hug me and say flavours reminded them of their mother or grandmother,” she says with a smile.

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