Random Food Rants from Darjeeling

Regular readers of my blog are aware of my recent trip to Sandakphu (Read about it here). The trip was tough but immensely enjoyable. At the end of the hectic trip, we decided to relax for a few days, and which can be a better place for that than Darjeeling, the Queen of the Hills. It is just 50 kms away and a place which has lots of fond memories for me.

Since we have been to Darjeeling many times, and the last trip being only two years back, the agenda this time was not to go on the sightseeing trips, but relax and take long walks in the hilly terrains and of course revisit my favourite food places and explore a couple of new ones. We reached Darjeeling from Sandakphu on a cloudy afternoon and checked into Classic Guest House, a clean and lovely place near the mall with a view of the mountains from the balcony. We have had a tough journey for six hours and were starving. So without much ado, we rushed to Glenary’s, just about a few minutes’ walk from our hotel.

Glenary’s, was originally an Italian restaurant, which was sold to a British gentleman in the 1950s who gave the present name to the outlet. Being one of the most popular places in the town, it is known for its bakery, which is located on the ground floor of a typical British building. The restaurant is on the first floor, with the al-fresco area which is in demand during the daytime, and the indoors where people rush in the evenings to enjoy the live music.

I somehow like the restaurant more than the bakery. During the three-day visit this time, I could manage to visit the restaurant thrice. The best experience was on the first evening with a gentleman rendering a soulful version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”. Darjeeling has some best quality pork meat as is evident by eating at any place. At Glenary’s Roasted Pork with French Fries is my favourite dish.  The soft pork is served with some delicious jus and a small piece of bread. You also have a beef version of this dish.

Coming to beef, I love the Beef Cutlet here. Stuffed with minced beef the taste of the cutlet still is consistent and we had it on two occasions this time. Another of my favourites, the Mixed Grill has pork sausages, ham, and salami along with eggs and chicken (though I seriously feel they should drop the chicken).  Glenary’s is also known for its Mac N Cheese with bacon bits, but I avoid it as I am not a fan of macaroni. I loved the quality of pork so much here that I also tried a Chinese Chilli Pork preparation which however was just par for the course.

In the evening, we wanted to visit another popular place Kunga. The Tibetan place is family run with hardly six tables and is perennially crowded. The momo, thukpa and shabalays here are not to be missed, as I had found out during my previous trips. However, we had a rude jolt when we found out that the place closes as early as 6:30 pm (we thought it to be 7). We were five minutes late and were promptly bundled out by the owner uncle here. A reasonable amount of requests and pleading was of no avail.

We had gone on a nostalgic trip on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (fondly known as “toy train”) from Darjeeling to Ghoom the next day. At around 3 pm after an enjoyable ride, we headed to Kunga again. There was a queue outside the place, with three families waiting before us. After a 40 minute long frustrating and salivating (forgetting our manners and peeking in to see what other people were having) wait we finally got a table here.

We ordered steamed Pork Momos and Pork Chilli. The prices at Kunga are reasonable and quantities are huge (ten momos per plate), which prevented us from ordering the gyanthuks, thenthuks, and shabalays.  The well-stuffed momos were devoured with the fiery red chilli chutney, while the Pork Chilli, cooked in red chilli paste with onions thrown in was delicious. It is a pity that we could not go back here during the short trip, so my thukpa here has to wait till the next time.

An iconic place with more than a hundred years of operations is located very close to Kunga. Keventers had first opened its doors in 1911, and since then have been favourites of the local people, boarding students, and tourists alike. A major landmark of Darjeeling, often directions are provided with respect to this landmark located very near the taxi stand. My friend Somek Choudhury who runs a Facebook group Kolkata Food Trotters (he periodically conducts group food trips to Darjeeling) had told me that he knows Mr. Rahul, the owner of Keventers well and was kind enough to put in a word. We met Mr. Rahul one evening after the place was closed. When we told him that we were planning to eat there the next morning, he told us that he will arrange a special item Ham and Cheese for us which is no longer on the menu.

Next day, the meal that we had at Keventer’s was just super. While the Ham and Cheese impressed a lot, the dish of the day was the iconic Pork Platter which had very good quality sausages, ham, salami and bacon along with fried eggs. I had been hearing murmurs from my friends that the standard of this dish had fallen over time, but believe you me if I am given the choice of having just one dish in Darjeeling I will go for this. The Meat Balls and Ham Sandwiches added to our happiness, and we closed the meal with a cup of Hot chocolate.

A visit to Darjeeling is not complete without a visit to Nathmulls. The tea bar has a branch near the mall named Sunset Lounge (the original was established about 90 years ago), and one evening we stepped in to try some tea. I love my flavourful cup of Darjeeling tea, but I must also admit that my knowledge of the finer nuances of the beverage is not of any professional level. However, the flavours of their Exotic Black Tea truly impressed. Apart from that they also had some green and black tea on display. The varieties of tea sold by them along with the cups, saucers, teapots, and accessories are definitely worth a look. Only disappointment was the Chicken Cheese Sandwich I ordered with the tea, which was kind of meh.

Somek had recently done a food trail in Darjeeling, and one place from their list which caught my attention was Mohan’s Restaurant which served Nepali food. Penang Restaurant is usually a place to visit for Nepali food, but based on Somek’s feedback I decided to go to Mohan’s located near the taxi stand just below Keventer’s. The 33-year old small place is named after the owner Mohan Rai, and is mainly patronized by Nepali taxi drivers. The only thing they serve is the standard thalis with either fish, pork, beef or buffalo.

We ordered the standard thalis, which came with gundruk (fermented sarson saag), alu gobi charchari, sidhra (dried fish) achar, filingi (a powdery dish made from a flower, I hope I got the name correct), beef fry and beef curry. The rice served was mixed with corn. We also tried their Rohu fish curry, and the hospitable owner asked us to taste a little bit of a spicy dish prepared with fish innards (mainly fish fat and liver), eggplants and tomatoes. It was real good stuff and people were lapping it up. You may feel cramped in this 8-seater place which serves the food in brass utensils, but you will not regret once you start eating.

#Darjeeling has many many more places to eat out. We avoided the Bengali places and concentrated only on places which serve the local cuisines like Nepali and Tibetan, or the places which we remember fondly from our earlier trips. To properly experience the culinary delights of this hill station, one would need at least a week in my estimate, but that remains a pipe dream for me given my current location and other preoccupations. A few years down the line, maybe. 

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