Food Tourism has truly evolved in the last few years. Thanks to social media and blog-sites, people are encouraged to share their experiences and that helps spread lesser known information about food of various places and which are the ones one should go for.
But there has always been some locations, which always associated itself with their culinary history or uniqueness among travelers for long. Cities like Kolkata, Hyderabad, Lucknow and so on had strong associations with the food of the land. And so is true for the “Queen of Hills” – along with The Mall, the Kanchenjunga, places like Keventers & Glenary’s have been recalled and talked about as many times. Movies of the past and present couldn’t avoid these places in their screenplay. Hence, for anyone traveling to Darjeeling, just like a visit to The Mall is unavoidable, so is a meal at Glenary’s or a breakfast or snacks at Keventer’s. These places have almost climbed to heritage fame not only for their years of existence and quality of food, but also the type of cuisine they have been serving, which, decades back, were not available abundantly. Moreover the cuisine helped connect to the colonial past in a terrain fresh out of colonial rule. But there remains quite a few more places in this town, whose food is slowly acquiring cult status in an era of pervasive social media.
The unfortunate delay of Air India flight to Bagdogra ensured that there is very little we could cherish on the day of our arrival in Darjeeling. It was past 8-30 pm and the day was completely wasted. Little did I realize that this delay ensured that I experience my maiden journey through Hill Cart road in the darkness of evening, for the first time. The Darjeeling station at night appeared spooky yet charming. 3 nights stay in Darjeeling (with day 1 lost) limits our scope to explore the eateries I have in my list.
Reception staff at Central Gleneagles might have never encountered a guest, who, arriving at 8-45pm, immediately rushes out of the hotel after checking in, having traveled almost throughout the day. But I can’t miss the dinner on first evening at Glenary’s. It is too costly a miss with limited number of meals we are scheduled to have and also missing the dinner there meant a completely event-less Day 1.
To avoid taking any chances of losing out to a long queue or the eatery closing down for the day, I rushed and occupied a table as my family trudged in a while.
You can read about my Glenary’s experience by clicking on below Link:
Mornings in the mountains makes me feel far more rejuvenated, more so since I get the urge to wake up early and take a stroll out to capture moments of nature just waking up to the needs of another day. Hence the hunger pranks pinch me harder by the time others wake up. With half the family still in a sleepy state and having booked our stay on CP basis, we thought of trying out the breakfast at Central Gleneagles. It was a jolt to sit in the restaurant, opening up to the undulating slopes of Himalayas, and being served Idli with sambar (chutney still not ready) and some Poori Bhaji. Those who were feeling sleepy woke up due to this jolt and ones like me, who were fresh and well into the day, had withdrawal symptoms after the breakfast. Somehow managing to douse the hunger, we decided to have an early lunch and Kunga is best suited since during lunch-time, a long queue is something Kunga experiences every day.
I reached earlier than my family members, yet again the worry of getting the table drove me to reach early and order a refreshing glass of Lemon tea with Honey. It warms you up before the serious hard work ahead.
Ordering at Kunga is easy, yet so very difficult. Easy because I will simply love to order steamed rice and chili pork. The small grained rice is so refreshing to the palate, not unnecessarily overwhelmed with the taste of chili pork, which comes cooked in light soy sauce with abundance of onions and green chilies and sparing quantity of capsicum.
The constant jugalbandi of relatively bland rice and not-so-overwhelming gravy clinging to the pork pieces along with the onions and green chilies profoundly affects you. But that is only after I have satisfied my soul with a bowl of Phing Noodle Soup.
The phing noodles per se is not having a taste of its own but there is unique. Cooked in chicken stock, the thin strips of carrot, moderate addition of watergrass with pieces of chicken floating around is a delight one gets only here. Be careful if you are alone; a portion of this soup can be overwhelming in quantity for one person. In fact, quantities in Kunga are quite generous, in-line with their warmth. If you are visiting Kunga once again, Thenthuk soup, a delightful Tibetan noodle soup, is what you should attempt next.
Wondering how come I went to such a famed Tibetan eatery and am yet to write about momos? Steamed momos are something similar to what you get in many places – yes – but that’s what you feel when you see them on your table. Now once you bite them for the first time, the soft outer layer of flour seamlessly mingles with the loosely packed inner minced meat filling and it transports your soul through the streets to the undulating mountains and you seem to float in thin air till you open your eyes to see the stout strong beautiful Kanchenjunga in front of your eyes.
That’s what precisely happened when I closed my eyes and gave my first bite to the steamed chicken momos and by the time I savored and allowed it to leave my taste buds, I opened my eyes to see the stout strong fried pork momos glistening on a plate in front of me. Now even in appearance, the fried momos are something you wouldn’t have seen. Solid hard crust, you may threaten your friend with one, if he is not willing to pay the bill on your behalf for having hosted him in Kunga. But as is true for human beings, often the apparently toughest personalities have a very soft inner self, subject to you daring to penetrate through him. Same holds true here for the fried momo. A crunchy hard outer layer gives way to some amazing inner world of aroma and taste.
A small eatery which can accommodate a maximum of 20 people, Kunga, for almost three decades, have been serving blissful Tibetan (and Chinese) food to its clients. Wait can be long and you can assess that from outside through the glass panes which separates earthly pleasures from heavenly ones. Nicely done wooden panels and tables with colored cloths and topped with glass sheets create an ambiance of simple yet tasteful food at affordable price.
Just like in Kunga, at Dekeva’s, which is next door, you will need to write the order on a pad and hand it over to them. This one, I guess, is owned by the owners of Dekeling Hotel. Food is very similar at both these places in terms of menu options. Pork with bamboo shoot & mushroom and steamed rice is what I explored here since this was a meal squeezed in between two major meals as I was running short of meals for this limited duration at Darjeeling. This place, additionally serves breakfast though I could never stretch myself beyond Keventers and Glenary’s for the same. Do try out some of their soups like Mixed Special Soup or Talumein Soup. Want to try something different – check out their ChopSuey.
Tired of shopping and long walks around The Mall? Shangri-La Hotel, housed in a heritage building, has a gorgeous restaurant. It is a must for one dinner at least during your stay in Darjeeling. Distinct green outer frames gives way into tastefully wrapped inner woodwork adding grandeur to artwork.
We skipped the soup in favour of liquors. And it is to be blamed on the ambiance. A perfect accompaniment was the Crispy Chicken Shanghai. How did the chicken pieces retain that crispiness inspite of being well coated with the sauce is still a mystery, or maybe I was tipsy.
I dared to explore into the unknown by ordering chicken and veg steamed rice. I have always prefer Chinese food devoid or limited in usage of sauces. What arrived is Cantonese rice and it left such a lasting impression in me. Sauces can do wonders, but to make such simple dish devoid of sauce with chicken and veggies and retain the taste and aroma was indeed commendable. Don’t spoil it by ordering a side dish.
I know a pork dish is beckoning you. Try out their Hakka noodles with a plate of Pork with mushroom and bamboo shoots.. You will appreciate the quality of both and the combo it creates. By the way, breaking out from the barrier of its name, they do serve Indian dishes as well.
People visiting Malaysia often give Penang a miss because of limited duration of stay. But while in Darjeeling, you can’t afford that. Just like Penang loses out apparently in its attractiveness to more glorified locales of Malaysia, so does Penang with respect to the approach stairs leading upto it. And I was pleasantly surprised the way they have redone their interiors since my last visit in 2015.
Operational since 1972, this is a place you must keep as part of your itinerary if you want to devour Nepali delicacies. And I was there just for one thing – Nepali Thali. As you munch on the fried wantons (slightly different in shape than what you are used to) as starters, your appetite seems to grow as the plate with bowls containing aloo bhujiya, soya chutney and powdered sesame & peanuts were kept in the table.
It was such a great teaser both for the stomach and the taste buds till the Kashar thala (copper plated bowl) arrived with the steaming hot white rice flanked by Rai sak (mustard greens) and aloo (potato) bhindi (ladyfinger) subzi on either side. Kali Daal (black lentil) with rice and seasonal vegetables is the staple Nepali food and that’s how I took off on my Nepali rendezvous in Darjeeling.
Slightly slippery, the daal is similar to Bengali Kolai r daal but prepared differently. Rich in natural taste, both the aloo bhindi subzi and rai saag augmented the taste of rice-daal mix. The Radish chutney, which will be loved by even the greatest radish haters, added a wonderful punch when I chose to mix of that together and create an unanticipated riot of flavours on my kashar thala.
How long can you withstand the sight of hot and tempting Nepali Pork curry without jumping onto it? The gravy, rich in oil and presumably because of pork fat, was mild in spices. With vast tracts of agricultural land, people in Nepal often bet on the natural taste of the produce of the land than camouflaging the taste with spices. The curry has typically pork pieces with almost 50% fat and is a delight for those who cherish pork fat as it seamlessly melts in your mouth. The natural aroma and flavours of the veggies, the tempting white steaming rice and the texture and taste of pork curry was the best swan song ever for me to Darjeeling.
For the less adventurous, I ordered their Chicken & Pork Rice noodles with dry boneless chili chicken cooked in seasonal sauce. The flattened noodles was rich in taste because of the accompanying veggies and delectably done pork and chicken pieces. However, flattened noodles are something, I am not particularly fond of. Couldn’t figure out the constituents of seasonal sauces in an otherwise sensational yet humble boneless chicken dish.
Into its 108th year, today Keventer’s is what connects the present with the past. A novel or a movie with Darjeeling as the locale, has rarely missed Keventer’s. How is their food? Ask any Keventer’s visitor. They will mostly answer how was there mood when they were in there.
Where did Anil Chatterjee exactly sit? From where did Ray shoot the scenes? Why doesn’t Darjeeling look the same when one peeps out from the Keventer’s terrace as shown in Kanchenjunga, the movie? And how come Kanchenjunga still looks the same – the only thing that hasn’t changed in all these years. Sandip Ray too followed his father’s footsteps of leveraging the legacy and location of this place. And so did other movies and literature.
Satyajit Ray did highlight their Hot Chocolate in Kanchenjunga. And so does generations thereafter. Not because Ray did. Because truly it’s unique. Asked my daughter, which one you liked between Keventer’s and the other famed café in Darjeeling. Predictably the answer was Keventer’s. They haven’t seen Kanchenjunga (movie). Asked them why. Answer was, “can’t say why. It was more balanced, more chocolatey”.
For me, there can’t be anything more romantic than Keventer’s hot chocolate and linkages to Bengali literature. In absence of Pork Hotdog (they don’t make it during high season), which is unique here because it is not the traditional hotdog we are used to (it is minced meat in hotdog bread fried), rest all are offerings, which were once uniquely associated with Keventer’s are today available in so many more places. Yet, one doesn’t need to woo his/her companions like Ranbir Kapoor had to, in Barfi, to accompany them to Keventer’s since food here tastes delicious wrapped evenly with coatings of memories and romance.
Don’t forget to buy the Dalle pickle / vinegar/ whole dalle (Arpana’s Kitchen) on your way out from Keventer’s. Allow your kids to freak out on the softy cones on their way out as you pick the Dalle bottle.
If you have time, try to explore a local market and pack some churpi cheese for taking it back. Can be a great condiment when you cook leafy vegetables back home or add to momo filling.
There are many more delicious places in Darjeeling to explore for food. Only limiting factor is the duration of stay. In between all these overwhelming meals, if stomach permits, explore the street food along the lanes meandering out from The Mall. Awesome, freshly done meat tikias, steaming hot home-made momos, the Hakka Noodles, buns filled with minced meat, phuchkas as you approach the Mall Road from The Mall are items that your tongue will crave for. Check out your stomach and decide accordingly.
Been in Darjeeling and one halt is a must for unadulterated time with tea. Golden Tips or Nathmulls right on The Mall are my favourites. Come out of them, and you are greeted by the ever vibrant Mall. Sit inside and unending vistas of undulating hills make the tea taste so much more aromatic.
Food in all the above places are indeed wonderful. But it is the location which adds romance and thrill to the delicious food. Hence a simple breakfast, common at our homes as well, of toast with butter, a soft juicy omelet and aromatic Darjeeling tea also leaves lasting memories and a compelling desire to be back in her lap, as soon as one can again.