The best way to explore a local culture is to indulge in an immersive experience with local food, visit the places where locals eat, digging into dishes that brings a smile on to their face. When I reached Mcleodganj after a short stay in Amritsar, I had Tibetan on my mind. I wanted to explore the world of Tibetan cuisine beyond the Momos and the Thukpas that I have ever so often. There are cafes, street side carts and restaurants in almost every building down the Potala Jogibara Road and the Temple Road leading out of the main square. During my brief stay, I hopped in and out of Cafes in Mcleodganj sampling their delicacies.
I am sure all of them serve good food but I could only manage to visit a few and made this hand written map for everyone who is trying to find a place to indulge in some great grub. My only Indian meal was a plate of butter chicken in Taste Of India on the day I landed since it was an extension of the Home Stay – Flourishing Flora where I stayed. I wish I had a few more days to eat my heart out but there is always a next time.
I had mentally resolved to explore more of Tibetan Cuisine on this trip and try to get the authentic taste as much as possible. I had a long list of places including Namgyal Cafe and Kailash but due to paucity of time could manage only 3 places. Tibetan food seems to have adapted to the Indian palate and acquired the touch of spice and heat. I decided to opt for mutton dishes since in the high mountains of Tibet it is more about meat than poultry.
My first stop was a small hole in the wall Kalimpong on Dharamkot Road. It is a modest room with 3 tables with seating for 6-8 people. The plate of juicy mutton momos set me going and I wanted to return back for more but there was so much to explore that I had to postpone it to a later visit.
One evening, I walked into Tibet Kitchen near the main square and ordered a plate of Mutton Shepta. It is flat strips of mutton cooked and then stir fried with lots of onions and chillies. I liked the taste but some pieces of mutton were a tad bit chewy for my liking.
My last meal in Mcleodganj was in Norling at the junction of Temple Road and Potala Jogibara Road. The lady at the counter was all smiles when I asked for a bowl of Aloo Phingsha. It is a soupy broth made with chunks of mutton,potatoes, mushroom, beans and glass noodles and best had with Tingmo; the fermented Tibetan bread. I opted for the dry version and loved it to bits.
Japanese in Lung Ta
Lung Ta is the only Japanese place in Mcleodganj. They serve primarily vegetarian Japanese dishes with some egg versions thrown in. The place is small and warm with rows of Japanese books on the shelves with a few Indian titles. There is Japanese style low seating too and one look into the place; its where every Japanese away from home would find comfort. I wanted some thing light so opted for a bowl of Udon which I enjoyed thorougly.
Cafes : Bakes and Continental
The streets of Mcleodganj are lined with cafes and there is so much to choose from that at times it gets confusing. I visited quite a few for breakfast, mid morning snacks, high tea and lunch to get a taste of the bakes. Mcleodganj has been a British settlement for a long time until the Kangra quake (1905) and subsequent Tibetan settlement in 1959. HH Dalai Lama draws a large number of international devotees, several of them from the western world. They come to Mcleodganj to experience inner peace through meditation, mindfulness and other Buddhist practices. In exchange several of them have imparted the knowledge of baking and continental cuisine to the locals influencing the quality of offerings in the cafes.
This one was quite a walk down Jogibara Road so much so that I was wondering if I would end up in Dharamshala :). My creaking knees found immediate solace as soon as I stepped in and settled down on a table in the balcony overlooking the valley. A slice of chocolate cake drenched in chocolate sauce and sprinkled with cinnamon powder was perfect company. The experience was further enhanced by the soulful jamming session by some guests with guitars and piano.This book store cum cafe has a great collection of books and though comparatively expensive than all the other cafes that I dropped by, it is a much cherished experience.
Jimmy’s Bakery and Jimmy’s Italian
The best part of Pizza’s in Mcleodganj is that they are thin crust with abundant toppings. I had the Pizza, Carrot Cake and Apple Crumble with Ice-cream across both the Jimmy’s outlets that are part of the same chain. While, it is full marks to the Pizza, the carrot cake was way too dry and not at all sweet and the apple crumble lacked the crunch. I would go back for Pizzas again since they have non veg toppings while the celebrated Nicks Italian does only vegetarian.
This place is a memorable find since I walked past it several times until I realised that it was at the basement of Black Magic Cafe. A small place run by an efficient lady this is the best place for coffee and cakes. I opted for the Semolina Cake which was a very continental take on our suji halwa and I loved it. Her carrot cake looked moist and tempting but the stomach revolted 🙂
This is the celebrated Italian place that every one talks about which is at the ground floor of Kunga Guest House. I went in for breakfast since I was craving for waffles and they had this tempting banana – honey on the menu. The waffle was crunchy, well made and not from refined flour which made me happy. They have an all vegetarian menu and nice airy seating. The Pizzas and pastas looked inviting.
This one is next to Nicks Italian and I stepped in to pack some Croissants for the road. Apparently they get ready only by 10am and instead of returning disappointed I grabbed a Mango Tart instead. It was delicious to say the least, the layer of mango pulp carefully ensconced between layers of wheat. I did not mind people looking while I licked off the mango mess from my fingers 🙂 They also hold Tibetan Cooking classes.
After a day hike to Triund, I was famished when I finally trudged down to Dharamkot. I literally dragged myself down to Morgans Place and slumped on the comfortable floor seating. All their portions was far too huge for a solo diner so ordered a plate of Suppli instead which is Italy’s famous street food. Suppli is very much like the chicken and vegetable chops sold in Indian streets. Chunks of Mozzarella cheese and mushroom were placed within a rice ball, dipped in egg batter, rolled in bread crumbs and then deep fried. It was served with a nice cheesy dip.
Feeling reasonably energised; I trudged to the nearby famous Himalaya Tea Shop for a sip of Rhododendron Tea but with their long queue of orders decided to give it a miss. It is worth the wait I am told but I was way too exhausted and needed to rest for a while.
After all the overdrive of eating; I decided to go for a Healthy Smoothie in this vegan cafe. I loved the ambiance; they have something calm and special about their place where you can peacefully spend your time overlooking the traffic chaos in the main square below. My banana smoothie combined with basil, mint, clove, cinnamon, fennel and ginger did its cleaning job 🙂 way beyond anticipation. On a next visit; I will surely explore some more of their menu.
Hummingbird Cafe in Norbulingka Institute
This cafe is located within the institute near Dharamshala. Do grab a bite if you happen to visit the institute. When my gaze on this beauty of a home made fruit tart; it was love at first sight. The first scoop was fruits with creamy goodness and I was glad that I had taken that extra stride to pick up the last piece at the counter.
In between all these cafe hopping, I munched into some corn, some chaat and of course a plate of fried chicken from a chicken centre off the street. Chunks of chicken coated with chilly and turmeric with a spattering of salt and ginger deep fried and served with spicy chutney