A foodie’s guide to Kodaikanal

What makes a visit to the ‘princess of hill stations’ an experience to remember? The hospitality at Kodaikanal’s Villa Retreat! Warm cozy rooms, home-like service, and of course delicious food — we have just the recipe to an unforgettable holiday. Enjoy sumptuous breakfast in our beautiful lawns, or sip on some soothing lemon tea on a cold Kodai evening. And if you’re looking for some old-world charm, try our grilled chicken with green pepper sauce in our heritage restaurant, with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong for company.

What’s more, we are located close to some of Kodai’s most revered restaurants! So whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or a dessert junkie, your fix is never too far from Villa Retreat! Let’s take a look at some of the delicacies on offer:

Steaming momos and thukpas at D. Tashi Namgyal’s Tibetan joint make for the perfect accompaniment to chilly Kodaikanal weather! This little place boasts a menu full of wallet-friendly prices, but don’t be fooled — you won’t have to compromise on either quality or quantity. Their egg noodles and garlic chicken can satisfy the most ravenous appetite — but if you’re still peckish, try their beef wontons with a generous helping of hot garlic sauce, and you’ll know why the place is always packed.

Right next to this momo paradise is a cozy little cafe that evokes an inexplicable sense of nostalgia. Checkerboard floors and wood-panelled walls create just the right atmosphere to sip on steaming cups of coffee for hours on end. Add their signature belgian waffles to the mix and you’ve got yourself a breakfast to die for. Driven by owner Kishore Cariappa’s dream to grow organic coffee en masse, his cafe serves coffee that is freshly roasted and ground in-house. You’ll be spoilt for choice, but make sure you try their sandwiches which are always bursting with the goodness of locally-produced cheese!

Don’t fill yourself up just yet — this gastronomical journey is only just getting started.

If you’re starving after a long day of trekking, a multi-cuisine cafe on PT road serves up delightful fusion food. Be it paninis or parottas, there’s something to satisfy even the pickiest customer. Chef Anand also whips up the much-acclaimed crab prawn tempura, tossed in wasabi-infused mayonnaise and a splash of honey. And if you fall in the ‘health conscious’ bracket, fear not! This ambient little place serves a whole range of fresh juices to keep your diet intact.

Creamy cakes and pastries from a celebrated bakery on Anna Salai road make for the perfect culmination to this culinary sojourn. Nothing feels better than sinking your teeth into their warm cinnamon rolls and tea cakes on a cool, crisp day. But if you’re more of an ice cream fan, don’t worry, you’re still in luck; the bakery serves luscious homemade ice creams made from fresh milk and local, seasonal fruits. Proprietor Prasanna and his sister have been running this place since 1985. Back then, the humble bakery offered just breads, rolls, and buns. Fast forward thirty years, and its menu ranges from croissants and rolls to pizzas and burgers; it is today one of the most popular eateries in Kodaikanal!

Whether on a quick weekend getaway or an extended holiday, Kodaikanal has plenty to offer. Take a night safari, go trekking, or walk through the picturesque locales — but above all, don’t forget to treat your taste buds at these must-visit cafes. After all, there’s no better way to experience a place than by immersing yourself in its culinary culture!

So what are you waiting for? Get packing and head over to the hills — we at Villa Retreat look forward to having you.

Zeena Nazar — The Queen of Kodai’s Villa Retreat

With a dream of starting something of their own, Zeena and Abdul, accompanied by 6-month old Zoheb, arrived in the picturesque town of Kodaikanal nearly 30 years ago. The young couple then took over Taj Lodge — a homestay that was meant to be a cozy retreat for travelers. Back then, Zeena handled the kitchen, and Abdul, the reception. Little did this duo know that their modest homestay would one day turn into the flourishing Villa Retreat.

The journey from Taj Lodge to Villa Retreat wasn’t all smooth, though. The property was first taken on lease, and the couple only managed to buy the place in 2005 after a fair bit of financial struggle. Zeena initially ran the kitchen all by herself, it was only after nearly three years that she hired help. Even so, life only got slightly easier.

But the ever-enterprising Zeena didn’t back down from the challenge — taking Zoheb to school, picking him up, looking after her youngest, Taslina, all while managing Villa’s kitchen. What helped was that Zoheb was a perceptive child who understood what his parents were going through, giving them next to no trouble. He now manages Villa Retreat, as he had a front-row seat to the inner workings of the business.

Nonetheless, Zeena’s imprint on the kitchen is firmly in place. Her chicken curry is still a force to be reckoned with, and her biryani is famous all over Kodaikanal! These recipes continue to be a part of Villa’s menu, and loyal guests are a testament to this culinary skill.

George, a guest from Ireland, is a fine example of this. He first came to Villa Retreat in its initial years to spend no more than a couple of days. But things worked out a little differently — the home-like hospitality and delicious fare won his heart, and incredibly, he stayed on till he breathed his last. In those eight years, he became not just a fan of Zeena’s culinary prowess, but also an adored member of the family.

And it’s not just guests who choose to stay on — employees do too. In fact, some have remained in Villa’s kitchen since they were first hired, while others have gone on to become executive chefs in five-star kitchens.

Now, almost three decades on, Villa Retreat has become one of the best-known hotels in Kodaikanal. And this is in no small part due to Zeena’s tenacity. From having never left Pathnapuram in Kollam, Kerala, she came to a town completely unknown to her — and not only set up a successful business, but also raised a family that now runs it. Now that’s what you call a woman of grit!