One of the major reasons for this long-awaited trip to the hills was food. Jaipur gives us rather limited options food-wise (and everything else-wise). Even the most basic of Tibetan/Nepali fares – by which I mean Momo – are decidedly inedible. And we both have a fascination for that particular style of cuisine. So off we went in search of Momos and Thukpas, the moment we entered Mcleodganj. The restaurants shut down quite early in this small town. By the time we reached, on a rainy August evening, only a handful were open. So our journey began with a lesser known outlet.
DrumStick: After a bit of to and fro, we found ourselves climbing up a narrow wooden staircase attached to one of the numerous buildings populating either side of the road. I can’t say the ambiance was inviting. A dimly lit stuffy room with old soggy foam couches and huge glass top tables. You sit wherever you get a place, much like a dhaba. A weird pungent smell engulfed the entire place. After a while, I adjusted to the odor and nearly forgot all about it once the food arrived: steaming hot bowl of wonton soup, dragon-style chicken momos, shredded mutton with pak choi and carrots, and beer to go with it. The food did assuage the initial gloom I’d felt upon entering. But if I had to pick one dish, it has to be the shredded mutton. The rest were good too but one gets similar dishes in the old Chinese settlements of Kolkata (I found the wonton soup at Tung Nam better).
Four Seasons: The lady was rather apologetic for not being able to oblige with Momos during the early hours but helped us out with the breakfast options. We zeroed in on Deluxe Pancake which included two huge and extremely soft pancakes served with maple syrup and butter along with scrambled eggs and bacon on the side. Not to mention two cups of cappuccino to go with it. We were planning to walk for most part of the day. So we had to forego half a pancake – with a rather heavy heart – to avoid being too full.
Roadside Vendor: On our way to St. John’s Church, the husband had spotted a man selling momos from a distance. His fixation for momos -especially pork momos – can sometimes get rather unnerving. The Momo vendor turned out to be a Nepali and was selling veg momos. We wolfed down a plateful each. There’s a distinct difference in the Momo Sauce and even the dumplings of McLeod and the ones in Darjeeling or even specific joints in Kolkata. Dhaju’s momo reminded us of the latter (we are forever hopeful of moving back to Kolkata sooner than later). Unfortunately, the photos I took never got stored. But I can vividly recollect sitting patiently on a makeshift chair – which the man proudly stated was built by him – precariously positioned on a muddy edge of a wet hill in anticipation of hot momos, for a long time to come.
Pigeon Hole: Because I didn’t see or couldn’t see a sign board, this is what I am going to call this little place with three tables fitted in a small windowless room. The kitchen counter looked out to the jam-packed street. And a busy couple catered to a hyper-local crowd. We were seated opposite a rather friendly lady with a deep voice and a huge bowl of thukpa. She poured generous amounts of soya and red chillie sauce into it. When our bowl arrived, she moved it away from the hapless husband and placed it in a way so it was equidistant from both of us! The good woman probably thought he would wolf down the entire thing without so much as giving me a single noodle. I wouldn’t mind that though for my super sensitive olfactory glands encountered that same old odour from the previous evening. I decided to make small talk and take spoonfuls of soup so as not to come across as rude. The broth was quite tasty but the smell was way too overpowering to enjoy the food. And I couldn’t quite bring myself upon taking pictures. At long last, the bowl was empty.
Tibet Kitchen: A trip to Mcleod is perhaps incomplete without a visit to this now-famous food joint. We had tried our luck in the morning. But McLeod takes its own time to wake up! So lunch it was. Tingmo Bread with Lamb Alu Phingsa followed by a plate of steamed chicken momos. The bread was soft and hot. The Phingsa a perfect blend of boiled vegetables, glass noodles and meat in a distinctly flavored gravy. For once, I wished I had a larger appetite! Not to forget the momos. It’d been a while since I tasted some real good dumplings.
Kailash: This again is a not so well-known joint and caters to a mostly local crowd. We ended up here for dinner because all the obvious options had shut down by the time we felt hungry. The husband took an instant liking to the place and we ended up here on two more occasions within the next couple of days. Strangely, not too many places in McLeod serve pork momos /thukpa. Pork side dishes are rare too. Kailash serves pork thukpa, beer, has a lovely view of the mountains, and usually isn’t as crowded as the more popular joints. Enough to make a man of Mr. B’s taste and disposition want to visit again and again. I can’t vouch for all the items on the menu. But the Mutton Shapta, Special Pork Thukpa, Double Fried Pork, and what is listed as Ema Datshe (but is in fact Onion and Mushroom in a Cheesy broth) – are worth trying. I tried being a little too adventurous with Fried Mutton Gyuma and it turned out to be a horrendous idea.
We diversified our options during the second leg of the ‘foodventure’. More on that in my next post.