West Bengal’s premier hill station is an eclectic mix of Nepalis, Tibetans, and Gorkhas. Their cuisine goes back to Rajbanshi cuisine heritage and forms some of the best of the Darjeeling food. Here’s a quick guide on what to eat in Darjeeling. Honestly, I did not expect this hill station to be such an amazing culinary destination.
Highlights of the Darjeeling dishes
- Momos can be found at every nook and corner of Darjeeling. There are plenty of varieties and fillings come in forms of chicken, vegetables, pork, or cheese. Try them steamed or fried, or dunked in a soupy broth. Recommended place to try momo in Darjeeling is Kunga on Gandhi Road. For vegetarian options head to Hasty Tasty in Chowk Bazaar.
- Thukpa rules the palates of Darjeeling. It is a soupy bone or vegetable broth having noodles, eggs, meat, and shredded vegetables thrown in. It is a complete meal in a bowl. Immensely pocket-friendly, a steaming bowl of thukpa is all you need to beat the chill. Try the thukpa at Dekevas, next to Kunga on Gandhi Road. For vegetarian options head to Hasty Tasty in Chowk Bazaar.
- Sael Roti is a seasonal specialty especially found during Diwali and Dusshera. It is a circular deep fried local bread, which can be had as a snack or as an evening tea accompaniment.
- Gundruk is where Darjeeling food gets all Rajbanshi and forest forage based. It is a strong smelly dish made up of fermented green leaves of radish, mustard, cauliflower, etc. The two days old fermented leaves are then dried in the sun rendering it the strong smell. The shredded dry leaves are mixed with vegetables or prepared with onions & radish. Its odour makes it a persona non grata at restaurants. Best places to try Gundruk are the small family eateries catering to the local blue-collar workers or at homes.
- Shaphalay is like a Tibetan pie. It is bread pouch stuffed with meat and can be had with any curry or chutney/sauce. Shaphalay is usually served with tsampa (roasted barley), cheese or butter.
- Niguru is a dish made of local fiddlehead ferns and its tendrils with churpi (cheese). Normally not available in restaurants and are best enjoyed at local homes.
- Churpee is made from cow or yak milk. They are local cheese and come in soft or hard forms.
- Sinki is prepared from radish tap roots. An indigenous dish with strong Rajbanshi traits, it is a forage food specialty in which aged radish silvers are pressed into a hole lined with bamboo and straw that is confined by a cover of vegetation, rocks, wood and finally, mud. It is dried in the sun and stored to last a few years more.
- Phagshapa is cooked with radishes and dried chilies. It is made of strips of pork fat and is mainly served in summers.
- Kakra ko Achar and Kinema are local home staples. Kakra Ko Achar is a pickle prepared with cucumber juliennes, sesame seeds, garlic, green chili, salt, etc. Kinema is prepared using fermented Soybeans.
- Dalle Chili Pickle is not for the faint-hearted. It is prepared with the fiery round red chili, mustard oil, salt, and spices. The pickle is sold in glass bottles and can be bought at local pickle shops. Be warned that Dalle chilies have the maximum heat in the world. Try Dalle at your own risk.
- Alu Dum is the most popular Darjeeling food. It is basically boiled diced potatoes cooked in thick gravy. The specialty is the mixing of local Dalle chili which renders Darjeeling alu dum a tongue-burning heat. Try it out at Beni’s Cafe located on SM Das road (off Laden La road) very close to the Big Bazaar store.
Include these thalis in ‘must have Darjeeling food’ list
Thali means plate or platter and includes small portions of many dishes. It is a very subcontinental concept and can be found all over India.
- Nepali Thali – In Darjeeling, the Nepali Thali is a must have. Comprising of several items like daal (lentils cooked in a soup), bhaat (boiled rice), tarkari (an assortment of vegetable curries served on small bowls), chutney or achar (pickles), curd, papad, and a dessert, a Nepali is spicier than a Bengali platter. You can have the non-vegetarian option as well. For a Nepali thali in Darjeeling head to the 1972 establishment of Penang Restaurant. It is located on Laden La road and close to State Bank of India (and just before the Big Bazaar store).
- Naga Thali – The fiery Naga Thali hails from Nagaland and is very popular in Darjeeling. It consists of rice, dried or fermented bamboo shoots, served with a choice of chicken dish or fish or pork, a side of Ghee (clarified butter) and pickles. Naga food is famous for smoked pork, so give it a try, if you love the meat. Also, note that fermented bamboo shoots come with very strong flavour and is an acquired taste. The best place to try the Naga Thali in Darjeeling is at the Revolver Restaurant.
- Bengali Thali is famous for its fish curry and is a daily staple for most Bengalis. That is why many restaurants in Darjeeling proudly display “Bengali Meals” sign and serve large portions of rice, dal, vegetables, fish, chicken, mutton or egg. Try the Mahakal Restaurant near the Gandhi Road Traffic Police Point.
Drinking in Darjeeling
- Darjeeling Tea – No trip to Darjeeling is complete without having a cup of the world famous Darjeeling Tea. Cultivated in the luscious tea gardens across Darjeeling, it is known as the ‘champagne of teas’ all over the world.
- Local brew Chang – This is a local brew which is prepared by fermenting millet with yeast. It is served in a bamboo container known as Tongba and should be had with a bamboo pipe. The fermented millet is topped with warm water until it loses potency. The small tin shack called Hot Stimulating Cafe is most popular for its Chang. It is located on the way to Himalayan Mountaineering Institute & Zoo.
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