Southern India is full of natural beauty. Periyar National Park, the Kerala Backwaters and temples galore will blow your mind, but the one place you absolutely can’t miss is a tiny cafe in the French-Indian city of Pondicherry, called Eat My Cake.
Eat My Cake isn’t just a place to grab a delicious traditional French baguette or sweet treat (although it really nails that). It’s also a social enterprise that’s helping empower local women who have been victims of domestic violence. Behind the beautiful little French façade of this café is a place that employs women from the local community who come from disadvantaged backgrounds; victims of domestic violence whose husbands are no longer around to support them.
Head of Asia Operations from Contiki, Kirsten Bain, learned about the cafe when researching ‘what’s hot’ for Contiki’s new Southern India trip, Southern Spice. “I specifically set out to meet some really interesting people in Pondicherry, knowing that the town has this old world feel to it because of the French occupancy, but also a lot of positive influence from that in the later years after the occupation ended. We went to Eat My Cake and we had a coffee and met Saloua Sal, the lady who started the Eat My Cake initiative, and then we were introduced to some of the ladies who work there and we knew we had to add it to our new Southern India trip” she says.
Eat My Cake is important for local women because in India, the caste system and gender hierarchy remains a cultural norm and men are the sole breadwinners in the family, so when domestic violence happens and a woman must leave, her life becomes very hard, if not impossible. The women who are employed by Eat My Cake were mostly married in their teens through arranged marriages and have been put in the situation where their husbands, usually through alcohol abuse, have domestically abused them. Finding the strength to leave a situation like this is difficult enough, but added to this is the fact that these women have no education, no means of supporting themselves, and a family to feed.
The philosophy of Eat My Cake though is that you don’t need to speak a language or have a school education to be able to cook.
The women in the kitchen speak Hindi whilst Saloua is French, so she speaks to them in English or French, but the words don’t really matter because she teaches them how to whip up delicious croissants and brownies by example and practice. So what’s the best thing on the menu? Hands down the cheesecake: “You don’t find a lot of dairy products in India, because many people are lactose intolerant, so to find a real, proper French cheesecake is the best thing.” – Kirsten Bain.
Once the ladies employed at Eat My Cake have learnt the cooking skills, they’re then taught the operations side of the business. Saloua educates them in how to manage and run their own business, with the end goal for these women to find jobs in hospitality, management, or even open up their own cafes.
It’s difficult not to be inspired by the hard work and dedication that goes on in this charming pastel-coloured hideaway. Eat My Cake has just recently registered as a charity so can now accept donations, but prior to this they relied on benefactors backing them and buying ovens, ingredients, or paying the rent. It’s amazing to see such a great cause grow, which is why we visit there on the Southern Spice Contiki trip. There’s two things for Contiki travellers to do at Eat My Cake and both make an impact: they can sit and have a coffee and cake and contribute financially that way; or they can go into kitchen they’ve just opened next door to the café with the ladies and learn to make yummy treats. Because they don’t speak English it’s an interesting challenge to learn how to speak ‘cake’ or ‘cooking’ in the same way the women learned.
“I think that if we can be part of that as a company it speaks to what we believe in, and that is that women deserve the chance for a new beginning and independence.” - Head of Asia Operations, Kirsten Bain