Situated 6,700 feet above the sea level and revered as the “Queen of the hills”, the town of Darjeeling mostly features as the producer of the “Champagne of Teas” for it’s Darjeeling tea in the Foodie diaries.
But here is a food-crazy tourist (yours truly) telling you that there is so much more to Darjeeling than Tea (DISCLAIMER: Based on a true story)
So here are seven of my food related experiences that you might want to try yourself in case you visit “The Queen”. With the Sun beating down on you with the intensity of a heat ray and the end of summer vacations closing in, Darjeeling might act as the perfect respite.
1. Must-Try Masoor ki Dal and Chawal
Surprised? Rice is a staple in the cuisine of West Bengal, hence Darjeeling too. The Rice they serve up there is of premium quality and very flavoursome. The Dal is fried in any way you want it: Tadka, Nepali, Plain, Mirch or even Chinese spices. You can have a good filling plate of the same anywhere. From a small roadside Dhaba to a five-star hotel.
#SpoonRecommends: Mayfair Hotel, Hasty–Tasty
2. Maggi and WaiWai
Life in the hills is full of hard work and intense physical stress. Going from one place to another is like a work-out in itself because of the distance and the altitude. Maggi and Wai-Wai become the perfect meal in the context because of the preparation time and ingredients required! The locals have over time developed their own version of them, which definitely deserve a try. And who can say no to hot slurpy noodles after a three kilometer hike?
#SpoonRecommends: Any roadside eating place. Really.
3. Try Momos and Thukpa
Darjeeling is a blend of cultures and this influences the food they serve. They have Tibetan, Nepali, Chinese, North Indian, South Indian and so much more. Hot steaming momos with chilli sauce, which most eateries make on their own, is a perfect snack with a hot cup of chai.
#SpoonRecommends: Kunga restaurant
4. Darjeeling Tea…Over Hyped
Honestly, Tea is now a very commercialised business in Darjeeling. You have tea tours, tea tasting, tea buffets and what not. But as a person who loves his/her tea, don’t expect Darjeeling tea to be this life changing, Hallelujah experience.
It has lots of variety, flavour and is exorbitantly expensive. One of the reasons I probably didn’t enjoy it that much is because I have grown up drinking the “impure” manufactured chai while Darjeeling tea is the purest out there. So do try it and maybe then form an opinion.
#SpoonRecommends: Keventers, Nathumal’s Tea-shop (you can also buy good tea here)
5. A Date With The Hills
Word of advice, the best part of the city is the height it’s situated at. Most of the time you can’t see the hills because of the clouds but you are always conscious of the height you are at. One of my best experiences here was sitting on our hotel balcony and sipping hot tea, eating sizzling pakoras while looking out to the hills.
#SpoonTip: Select a hotel based on the view.
Though not too fond of the Darjeeling tea myself, I definitely cannot write off the experience attached to the tea-drinking. Darjeeling is a town mostly developed by the British Colonizers during the colonial period for tea trade. The influences are still very much prevalent. Drinking tea in delicate china teacups at a high-end place will take you back to the colonial times and make you feel like royalty.
I would recommend a high-end breakfast in a good tea bar, where you are pampered like a royal while sipping your favourite tea and snacks.
#SpoonRecommends Nathumal’s tea-shop. Glenary’s. Mayfair hotel.
7. Road Trip and Dhaba Hopping
If you are going to Darjeeling then a road trip is definitely on your charts because there is nothing connecting the hill station to the world below except roads. Road-trip gives you the perfect opportunity to stop, click amazing pictures and eat at little restaurants (Dhabas) that have popped up along the way. The taste and quality of the food is very good but the experience they provide is what matters the most.
Most of these Dhabas resemble a shack that is almost falling off the edge of the hill, while you sit in there and enjoy a cup of piping hot tea. The edge gives an adrenaline rush (if you went to a really risky place) but mostly helps you enjoy the beauty of the place far better than any restaurant in Darjeeling. Most of these Dhabas are midway and hence away from the commercial town and civilization. You might even spot the occasional waterfall on a slope covered with tea leaves.That is what Darjeeling is about, being one with the hills.
#SpoonRecommends: Stop at any Dhaba with a good view and a place to sit.