Darjeeling Eateries- District Specials Food

The people of Darjeeling consume a diverse variety of foods. Each ethnic group has its own distinct traditional food. A popular food in Darjeeling is the momo, a steamed dumpling containing chicken, mutton, pork, beef or vegetables cooked in a doughy wrapping served with a watery vegetable soup and spicy tomato sauce/chutney. Indigenous fermented food products such as gundruk (fermented and dried leafy vegetable), kinema (fermented soyabean), and sinki (fermented and dried raddish) are consumed by the people. Wai-Wai is a favorite packaged snack of Darjeeling hills comprising noodles that are eaten either dry or with soup. Hard chhurpi, a type of hard cheese made from cow or yak's milk, is another popular mini-snack that is both nutritious and masticatory. Soft chhurpi, a traditional soft cheese, is consumed along with green vegetables as savoury dishes, used as filling for momos,

ground with tomatoes and chillies for chutney or made into a refreshing soup. A type of noodle called thukpa, served with soup and vegetables/meat, is extremely popular in and around the hills of Darjeeling. There are a number of restaurants offering a variety of traditional Indian, Continental and Indian Chinese cuisine to cater to tourists. Tea is the most popular beverage, procured from the famed Darjeeling tea gardens, as well as coffee. Chhang or jaanr is a local alcoholic beverage made from fermented millet, maize or rice. Restaurants in Darjeeling typically cater to tourists who mostly come from West Bengal, and some from other parts of India and overseas countries. So lot's of multi cuisine and specialized restaurants have come up in the hills who cater to the popular demands of touristy food. But you can add a great dimension to your trip to Darjeeling by exploring the local food & cuisine here and trying out some of them. They are quite unique and different from what we are used to having. You will love them all.

Due to a varied mix of culture in Darjeeling, the local or ethnic food here also has a lot of diversity. The original residents of Darjeeling were Lepchas who are still existent. The majority are Gorkhas who are Nepali immigrants. There are significant Tibetan immigrants, Sherpas, and also Bengalis who have migrated from the Siliguri sub division of lower plains. So as expectedly, the local food and beverages in Darjeeling too have had reflections of such diversity.

Rice, noodles and potatoes seem to make the dominant part of the staple food here, that's because that suits well with the cool climate. But one thing that is noticed, unlike in other parts of India, residents of Darjeeling do not use overdose of spices and oil. In fact coconut, tamarind etc are hardly available in the hills to be used in food. But having said that, the chutney served with some popular snacks like momos are usually unbearably hot and you will bound to get hiccups if you are liberal with it.

Momos
These are probably the most popular local snack food in Darjeeling of Tibetan origin. They are dumplings made with flour dough and stuffed with either meat or vegetables. The non-veg momos have either chicken or pork as stuffing, the veggie ones will have cabbage, cheese and other vegetables. Momos can be steamed or fried. The more popular are the steamed ones. Momos (usually 6 - 8 pieces) are served with a clear soup and sometimes aachar (pickles).

The best places to eat momos in Darjeeling
Momos are readily available in many restaurants and eateries. One of my favorite places is the small budget restaurantKunga located centrally on Gandhi road. It's a Tibetan family run restaurant and specializes on such Tibetan Food. They also serve steamed momos in hot noodle soup and the dish is known as Chicken Wanton Soup which can be like a half meal.

Another place that serves great non-veg momos is Dekevas, a small budget restaurant located just adjacent to Kunga. It's part of the hotel Dekeling and run by a Tibetan Family. However for for vegetarian Momos, a great place is Hot Stimulating Cafe - a small tin shack which is run by the local lady Lily. Hasty Tasty on Nehru Road is another place where you will get nice vegetarian momos.

Thukpa
Another very popular Tibetan food is Thukpa. It is essentially a hot noodle soup mixed with meat, eggs, vegetables etc and served in a large bowl. Although thukpa is more like a starter, for an average eater, this can easily fill up the stomach. Note that Wai Wai is also another similar dish prepared with noodles and served dry (hakka) or with a soup base.

The best places serving Thukpa in Darjeeling While several restaurants in Darjeeling serve thukpas, my favorites are again the small budget restaurants Kunga andDekevas that are located on Gandhi road.

Alu Dum
You ask any local of Darjeeling about Alu Dum and you will notice a smile on the face. They just can't live without it. So how can you not try such food which has become somewhat close to a staple food for all here. Alu Dum is a typical Nepali and Bengali snack item or a side dish. It is prepared by boiling cut potatoes in a thick gravy and mixing dried red chili powder in it along with onion slices, few cloves of garlic, some mustard oil and sometimes even red color. Watch out! It can be quite hot but very tasty. Usually served with potato wafers or 'bhujia' to make it a tempting snack.

The best places to eat aludum in Darjeeling Alu means potato and dum means cooked under steam pressure. Virtually all small local eateries in Darjeeling would serve alu dum. Even while you are spending a leisure time sitting somewhere around the Mall, there will be local food vendors approaching you with alu dum. But it may not be advisable for a tourist to try that out just from anywhere, mainly because of the hygiene factor. My favorite places are Beni's Cafe located on SM Das road (off Laden La road) very close to Big Bazaar, and the vegetarian budget eatery Hasty Tasty on Nehru Road.

Traditional Nepali Thali
Thali means plate or platter. Nepali Thali comprises of a full meal served on a plate which comprises of several items like daal (lentils cooked in a soup), bhaat (boiled rice), tarkari (assortment of vegetable curries served on small bowls), chutney or acaahr (pickles), curd, papad and a sweet item. You can complement this with chicken or other meat curry. This platter is quite similar to traditional Bengali platter although the preparation, the use of spices and herbs differ slightly.

Traditionally the plate and the small containers used in the platter would be all made of bronze. But these days bronze is a luxury that few restaurants can afford for the price they charge and fewer eaters care for it. So typically stainless steel plates and utensils are used.

The best places to eat Nepali Thali in Darjeeling There are several restaurants in Darjeeling that serves Nepali thali. But one name pops up prominently the moment you ask a local to guide you to the best place serving Nepali thali. And that is Penang's located on Laden La road and close to State Bank of India. This budget restaurant is not appealing at all, but has carved out a name for itself for this. Another place that serves great Neplai thali is Revolver Restaurant located on Gandhi road.

Dalle (Darjeeling Hills Pickles)
If you savor the taste of hot chili, then this popular local pickle is for you. It is prepared with round red chili, mustard oil, salt and spices. Some acidic acid is added for preservation. The pickle is sold is glass bottles. They look like small red balls suspended in a reddish liquid... very hot but delicious. Earlier I mentioned about super hot chutney served with momos. They are prepared using this dalle.

You can get dalley in Keventer's on Nehru Road. Although it's locally known as dalle, a popular brand is known as Darjeeling Hills Pickles. Another place to get dalle... enter Zakir Hussain Road from Mall (Chowrasta), cross the horse stables and on your right you will see a series of small stalls. A lady sells varieties of pickles. You will get dalle from her. You can also get this pickle at Chowk Bazaar (lower market).

Kakra ko Achar and Kinema
They are essentially pickles and favorites of the locals, especially the Nepalis. Achar means Pickle. The first one, i.e. Kakra Ko Achar is prepared of julienne cucumbers and can be taken as a salad or pickle. Ingredients used include long stripes of cucumber pieces, sesame seeds, garlic, green chili, salt etc. Kinema on the other hand is prepared using fermented Soybeans.

How to get Kakra ko Achar and Kinema
Enter Zakir Hussain road from the Mall and go past the horse stable, you will find a row of stalls on the right, some of them selling varieties of pickles. You will get it here.

Naga Cuisine
You can find even authentic Naga dishes & meals in Darjeeling. While there is a small population with Naga ancestry here, there are few restaurants (not many though) that have introduced Naga food. The Naga Platter (thali) typically consists of rice, fermented or dried bamboo shoots served with choice of chicken, pork or fish, ghee (prepared from milk like butter), pickles etc. The fermented bamboo shoots have typical flavor & odors. So unless you really want to go for it, try out the dried bamboo shoots instead. You can complement the dish with chicken.

The best places to eat Naga dishes in Darjeeling The Revolver Restaurant which is part of a budget hotel on Gandhi Road is the first to introduce Naga cuisine in Darjeeling and in my view still the best. The lady co-owner Asenla's father is Naga and hence such a dish in the restaurant. They do not use oil in their preparations and therefore the food is healthy. I love the taste as well.

Some of the Naga dishes here includes fermented bamboo shoots with choice of chicken, pork or fish (costs Rs. 100 - 110), dried bamboo shoots with pork etc (costs Rs. 120), pan fried smoked pork (Rs. 150), smoked pork with fermented soybeans (Rs. 150). Asenla's Husband Vikash (the second owner) is a Nepali, and therefore this restaurant is a great place for authentic Nepali food as well. But you need to order your food in advance so that they will make it fresh for you.

Bengali Food
There are many Bengalis who have settled in Darjeeling and many keep visiting from Kolkata and Siliguri areas. As a result restaurants serving Bengali food are thriving here. Visit Bengali food in Darjeeling to know about the popular Bengali dishes and restaurants in Darjeeling serving them.

Churpee
This is a milk base snack item which is prepared from cow's or yak's milk. They are like cheese and come in both hard and soft forms. Churpees are delicious healthy snacks. When served with Niguru (tendrils or stems of a fern plant), they make a fantastic combination. You can get Churpees at Keventer's located at Nehru road.

Shaphalay
This is a Tibetan bread which is stuffed with meat. You can get them almost in all Tibetan restaurants. You can have it with any curry or even with chutney with vegetables. But a popular accompaniment to Shaphalay is tsampa (roasted barley) and served with cheese or butter.

Sael Roti
You won't usually get this item of Nepali origin in restaurants. But if you happen to get friendly with a local, ask him or her to invite you for Sael Rotis. These are usually prepared at local homes during private functions or parties. These are rotis (flat round breads) made from rice paste and then fried deeply. Tastes quite nice but you should typically have it with butter, cheese or chutney.

Bengali food in Darjeeling

Vast majority of tourists in Darjeeling are Bengalis who mostly come from Kolkata and its suburbs. One of the primary considerations of most Bengalis is the food. They can't simply survive without 'Maach-Bhaat' (i.e. fish curry & rice). Often they come through tour operators who need to ensure that the hotel where they are put up serves Bengali dishes, otherwise the hotel won't qualify for stay.

While there are several eateries and restaurants in Darjeeling that offer Bengali food in order to capitalize on this demand, unfortunately there aren't many authentic places. Here are the ones that should be your targets

A good option is to walk down the road below Keventer's (Robertson Road) and you will shortly come across a Bengali restaurant on the left known as Mahakal Restaurant. It's only a minute from Gandhi Road Traffic Police Point. It's a restaurant which is part of a hotel, but the restaurant is the one which is popular out of the two.

You will need to enter through rows of cars parked just outside its entrance. A big board outside proudly displays 'Bengali Meals'. The dining area is not big. There are two sections, one on the right of the reception (only two tables with windows facing the road) and another on the left with about six tables.

The food served is quite nice and in large portions. You can get fish, chicken, mutton or even egg meals... and all very reasonably priced. I tried the mutton meal (in September 2014) which comprised of rice or roti, alu sheddo (mashed potato), daal, mutton curry, fried papad, two types of vegetables, curd, pickle, and onions with green chilly. The cost was only Rs. 110/- plus tax and I could not finish it. In fish meals, they usually serve rui maach (rohu fish) along with other accompaniments. During breakfast you will get luchi, begun bhaja etc. They also serve momos, coffee etc.
But remember that fish in Darjeeling is likely to be frozen and sometimes can be an old stock (particularly during low season). There are no fresh water lakes in the hill town where fish is cultivated. Frozen fish is brought in from Siliguri and stocked by the restaurants. However, chicken, eggs and lamb are more likely to be fresh.
There is another restaurant where I like the food too. The in-house restaurant of the Broadway Hotel (located right next to the BSNL telephone office building, off Gandhi road). The restaurant is very simple and unassuming. But if you order in advance (talk to Amit, the owner who is usually there at the reception after 10am), they can make nice Bengali dishes. One of my favorites here is the steaming Khichri (rice with daal preparation) and maach bhaja (fried fish). Amit mentioned that this dish is also a favorite of Anjan Datta, the singer and film maker, who at times comes to the restaurant when he is in Darjeeling. Price range is budget to mid-scale.

The in-house restaurant of Chanakya Hotel (located near Gandhi Road Police Point and below Keventers) is often crowded with many Bengalis. They prepare Bengali thalis like Maach bhaat (fish & rice), Mangsho bhaat (mutton & rice), Dim Bhaat (egg & rice) etc). I don't like the ambience here personally. As you enter, the overpowering smell of food in the dining room repels me a bit. But that doesn't stop large numbers of Bengali tourists lining up here for a table. This is probably because of the low price for the food. Visit Chanakya Restaurant to know about how things are there.

The in-house restaurant of Hotel Meghma also serves Bengali food (price: mid range). It is located on Gandhi Road and close to Hotel Synclairs. Several tour operators accommodate Bengali groups in Hotel Meghma and as a result the restaurant prepares Bengali food. When the hotel gets full during high season, the restaurant also gets quite crowded.

Another option on Gandhi Road is Hotel Zodiac located opposite to Bethany School. It's in-house restaurant also serves Bengali food (price: mid range). Address: 27 A/1 Gandhi Road.

The Shangri La Restaurant on Nehru Road located close to the Mall also prepares fish curry, rice etc. However this is an upscale restaurant and the preparations here are little rich and have north Indian touch. They may not taste like typical Bengali preparations. But over all quite good.

However if you are interested in Nepali food (I like the preparations and some dishes are quite close to Bengali cuisine), try out the Revolver Restaurant located very close to Synclairs hotel on Gandhi Road. I stayed in their hotel once and had a great time. However the best place to try Nepali Thali is at Penang Restaurant, on Laden La Road opposite the State Bank of India Building (walking distance from your hotel). They prepare authentic Nepali thali.

Restaurants & Cafe (Listed Alphabetically)

Cafe Coffee Day (Category: Mid-Scale)
Cuisine: Snacks & Coffee - you know the standard stuff they serve, it's no different here.
Location: On the Chowrasta Mall
Ambience: Large room with outdoor terrace seating with great views of the mountains.

Chanakya Restaurant (Category: Budget)
Cuisine: Bengali and other Indian dishes, Chinese
Location: DB Thapa Road, close to the taxi stand & Clock Tower. Part of Chanakya hotel.
Ambience: Large dining room with ordinary decor. Good views from the windows.

Dafey Munal (Category: Budget)
Cuisine: Chinese, Indian & Tibetan
Location: Laden La Road, right at the taxi stand and close to the Clock Tower.
Ambience: Mid size restaurant with small tables. Window-side tables have glimpses of the valley.

Dekevas (Category: Budget)
Cuisine: Chinese, Tibetan, Continental and Pizzas
Location: On Gandhi Road, right next to the taxi stand and below Dekeling Hotel
Ambience: Small but organized. No views.

Fiesta (Category: Mid-Scale)
Cuisine: Tibetan, Chinese, South Indian
Location: At the Mall opposite to the Nehru Road entrance too the Mall.
Ambience: Great view of the Chowrasta Mall. There is also a small outside seating.

Frank Ross Cafe (Category: Budget)
Cuisine: Indian, Tibetan and International like Italian, Mexican and others. Only vegetarian.
Location: Nehru Road next to the Frank Ross Pharmacy
Ambience: Long narrow space with cozy seating with hanging lights. Good view at the end.

Golden Tips (Categoty: Mid-Scale)
Cuisine: Tea and Snacks
Location: On the Mall
Ambience: Nice lounge, cozy & spacious and opening out to great views at the end.

Glenary's Restaurant (Category: Upscale)
Cuisine: Continental/Chinese/Indian
Location: On Nehru road on the way to the Mall
Ambience: Large elegant & spacious dining room with great views on one side. Has a bar.

Hasty Tasty (Category: Budget)
Cuisine: Vegetarian North & South Indian, Tibetan and Chinese
Location: On busy Nehru Road on the way to the Mall.
Ambience: Large popular restaurant with regular & fast food items. Great views from one end.

HMI Restaurant & Tea Parlour (Category: Mid-Scale)
Cuisine: Indian, Chinese and snack items.
Location: At the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute premises, Jawahar Road
Ambience: A mid size Mid-Scale restaurant offering breakfast and lunch.

Hot Stimulating Cafe (Category: Budget)
Cuisine: Vegetarian food - mostly Tibetan & Chinese, also serves some egg items, veg burgers and homemade beer.
Location: On Jawahar road and on the way to HMI & Zoo. Will require some walk from the Chowrasta Mall.
Ambience: Small tin shack with six tables. Great views from one side.

House of Tea (Category: Mid-Scale)
Cuisine: Tea Bar. Range of Goodricke's Darjeeling Tea, snacks and ice cream
Location: On Nehru Road that leads to the Mall
Ambience: A tea lounge. Quite spacious and cozy. Great views at the end.

Keventer's (Category: Mid-Scale
Cuisine: Sandwiches, Eggs & Sausages and snack items. Famous for English breakfast.
Location: At the beginning of Nehru road that leads to the Mall.
Ambience: Upstairs both in-room (small) and terraced seating with great views.

Kunga (Category: Budget)
Cuisine: Chinese & Tibetan
Location: On Gandhi Road, right next to the taxi stand and below Dekeling Hotel
Ambience: Very small, few tables and favorite of many foreign tourists. No views.

Lunar Restaurant (Category: Mid-Scale)
Cuisine: Only Vegetarian, North & South Indian, Chinese
Location: On Gandhi road opposite to the taxi stand and at the 2nd floor.
Ambience: Large bright dining room with great views from the window side tables.

Nathmull's Sunset Lounge (Category: Mid-Scale)
Cuisine: Range of Darjeeling Tea, cakes and snacks
Location: At the Mall
Ambience: A tea lounge. Small with tables having great view of the valley.

Park Restaurant (Category: Upscale)
Cuisine: Mainly Thai. You also get Chines & Other dishes.
Location: On Laden La Road opposite to State Bank Building and close to the Clock Tower.
Ambience: Elegant large dining room with a bar at the entrance. Nice view on one side.

Penang Restaurant (Category: Budget)
Cuisine: Tibetan, Nepali. Well known for momos (which are like chicken and pork dumplings), and also traditional Nepali thali.
Location: Laden La Road opposite the State Bank of India Building
Ambience: Not so appealing but serves authentic Nepali thali (both veg & non-veg).

Revolver Restaurant (Category: Budget)
Cuisine: Naga, Nepali and Local Cuisine
Location: Gandhi Road, about 10 minutes walk from Keventer's or the Clock Tower
Ambience: Cozy living room setting with low couches. Also dining tables & chairs on one side.

Sonam's Kitchen (Category: Budget)
Cuisine: Pasta, Pancakes, Sandwiches (breakfast & dinner)
Location: On Zakir Hussain Road that leads from the Mall. Few minutes walk.
Ambience: Very small, few tables and favorite of many foreign tourists. No scenic views.

Shangri-La Restaurant (Category: Upscale)
Cuisine: Multi-cuisine - Indian, Chinese and Tibetan.
Location: On Nehru Road close to Mall and on the ground floor of Shangri-La Hotel
Ambience: Elegant large wood finish dining room with a bar at the end.

Zoo Cafe (Category: Mid-Scale)
Cuisine: Indian, Chinese and snack items
Location: Inside the HMI & Zoo complex. Jawahar Road.
Ambience: Quite large and spacious restaurant popular with the HMI visitors for lunch.

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