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A culinary adventure in Auroville: Explore authentic Korean cuisine at Nowana

Entrance to Nowana

Entrance to Nowana
| Photo Credit: Sangita Rajan

A restaurant with outdoor seating and no air conditioning is rarely the first choice on a sweltering summer afternoon. Yet, there I was, at Nowana’s verdant outdoor space in Auroville. Brushing up on my chopstick skills, and sipping on an ice-cold kombucha keeps me distracted from Puducherry’s rising heat and humidity. 

Following an unmarked turn by the Auroville bakery and navigating unpaved roads, a beacon appears: a bowl of ramen on a signboard. Nestled amidst the greenery stands a charming restaurant with a lush canopy, run by Koreans who now call the experimental township of Auroville, home.

A board near the outdoor seating listing special beverages and desserts

A board near the outdoor seating listing special beverages and desserts
| Photo Credit:
Sangita Rajan

Established in 2021, Nowana specialises in Korean cuisine, offering dishes straight out of your favourite K-dramas. “This space belongs to Auroville and began as a community kitchen before evolving into a restaurant,” explains Gumsoon An, who manages the kitchen at Nowana.

Driven by the desire for cultural exchange, the core team at Nowana briefly offered basic Korean conversational classes. “We are not really an institute and are not certified teachers, but this is a good space for people to meet, and so we started teaching simple conversational Korean which included how to order in a restaurant,” she says, adding that they had to stop due to the seasonal inflow of tourists. 

Gimbap with vegetables and cheese, served with a soy dipping sauce

Gimbap with vegetables and cheese, served with a soy dipping sauce
| Photo Credit:
Sangita Rajan

“Whenever we are ready, I would really like to start taking cooking classes and other such things,” says Gumsoon, placing acolourful plate of gimbap in front of us. The Korean seaweed roll filled with vegetables, sticky rice and meat or cheese according to choice, is served with a salty and spicy dipping sauce of soy sauce and wasabi. The crunchy vegetables, well seasoned rice makes the bite-sized gimbap, soaked in the dipping sauce, the perfect start to the meal.

Next, a steaming bowl of japchae arrives. The sweet potato glass noodles are stir-fried in a vibrant sesame-chili oil with vegetables, offering a delightful balance of sweet and spicy flavours. “We prioritise organic produce. The vegetables, eggs, and poultry mostly come from farms in Auroville farms,” she says, adding that some ingredients, like Napa cabbage for their homemade kimchi, come from Ooty.

Spicy Japchae with vegetables from Auroville farms

Spicy Japchae with vegetables from Auroville farms
| Photo Credit:
Sangita Rajan

Other dishes on the menu range from the famous ramen (served in a chicken broth and topped with vegetables, egg and spicy Korean chilli paste), to nem, which is a deep-fried rice paper roll stuffed with vermicelli noodles, different kinds of meat and vegetables and served with a soy dipping sauce. The bibimbap is the star of the menu due to its endless possibility for customisation. Also available is bossam — tender boiled slices of pork belly served with a variety of vegetables and kimchi, which can be made into wraps with lettuce.

“We get some ingredients such as glass noodles, gochujang, soy sauce and gim seaweed from South Korea, and from stores in Chennai such as Seoul Store,” she says. 

Outdoor seating at Nowana

Outdoor seating at Nowana
| Photo Credit:
Sangita Rajan

The chefs at Nowana have kept the authenticity of the Korean cuisine intact, while also adapting the food for the Indian palate. “People are looking for spicy food, so I have adapted and introduced a spicy japchae along with the regular one. Korean cuisine is quite flexible,” she says. Almost every dish on the menu can be customised and made vegetarian or even vegan on request.

“When I meet people who say that they are here to try Korean food for the first time, I really appreciate it because they are open-minded. I’m Korean, living in India for 20 years. If I did not open myself up, I cannot live here,” she says, adding that food is a great way to start opening yourself up to the world around you. 

Nowana is at Auroville. A meal for two costs ₹1,100.

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