During the last Christmas holiday, we spent a week at Darjeeling. From Darjeeling, we explored a few offbeat locations, but we ensured to stay and explore food only at Darjeeling. The blog covers my gastronomic experience at the known and lesser-known eateries of the hill station.
Popular Food Joints
Keventer’s is a more than 100 years old heritage cafe serving food in Darjeeling. Founded by Edward Keventer in 1911, the restaurant made its presence known among meat lovers for its meat platter. On the pork platter, I prefer the well-prepared bacon. The sausage, meatloaf, salami were very dry and chewy. The quantity of meat on a platter is overwhelming for a lone eater. We keep coming back for the steaming frothy milk coffee, and hot chocolate. We had an unforgettable snowfall experience while sipping hot beverages in Keventer’s.
From early morning the travellers queue outside to get a seat on the rooftop. The open rooftop with the clock-tower background is an iconic silver screen frame. The mornings are the best time to visit because there are higher chances of a clear sky for a beautiful view of the entire range while witnessing the hustle and bustle of the Nehru Road.
Kunga is a tiny restaurant that has been an institution for more than 20 years regarding Tibetan food in Darjeeling. Thanks to the restaurant’s popularity, there is always a queue outside to get a table starting at 10.30 am. Kunga is the ideal option for late breakfast or even early lunch.
The Pork Momo was instantly ordered, and popped the steamed dumplings with chilli sauce inside the mouth. The momo oozed the pork juice and burst of flavour inside the mouth. Momos and Kunga are synonymous. The momo was accompanied by Lemon Tea with honey to make us warm and was soothing down the throat. Chilli Pork fulfilled the morning’s protein intake. The bowl of mildly spicy lean pork is the soul of Kunga. The meat was soft as it could melt in the mouth.
Tibetan soups are thick and heavy on meat and starches. In the cold climate, we were precisely craving for this. Beef Bhakthuk Soup is a bowl of round hand-pulled noodles made from wheat flour. A hearty bowl of beef broth packed with tomato, carrots, spring onions and flavoured with garlic and ginger. Too generous serving for a portion. Pork Phing Soup was loaded with glass noodles and lean shredded pork. The uncomplicated and straightforward pork broth was rich in the refreshing flavour of lemongrass, ginger and coriander leaves.
The restaurant’s kitchen is not only retained its quality and taste but fills the air with enticing aromas. Kunga is worth the hype!
The century-old three-storeyed colonial building of Glenary’s is one of the prominent food attractions in Darjeeling. The iconic restaurant serves Chinese and Indian cuisine but is well known for its Continental preparations. The spacious rooftop overlooks the valley. The view is good, but the bone-chilling air can spoil the gastronomic experience during peak winter. The overhead heater helps at times.
Roast Pork and French fries served with buttered bread – was the apparent first order of the lunch. The spicy and slightly sweet orange coloured sauces drizzled over the thick pork slices with a mix of lean and fatty. The sauce somewhat complements the succulent cuts of pork. I polished the sauce from the plate with the help of bread and fries before digging into the meat.
Golden Fried Prawns is an addictive dish for a seafood lover. Marinated jumbo prawns dipped in batter paste and deep-fried until golden in colour. The prawn size reduces daily; however, semi-cooked prawns batter turned off the appetite. Post gathering, my thoughts went ahead with the next round of ordering.
Fried Fish & Chips got a pair of marinated Basa fillets coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried. The outside was crispy and tender from the inside. It goes well with French fries dipped in tartar sauce. The fish was less fresh to my liking, not making it delectable.
Lastly, I had a baked preparation – Bacon and Cheese Macaroni. Penne pasta and bacon baked with mozzarella cheese gives a golden crust on top. Unfortunately, only the upper half was cooked but was undercooked inside because of poor baking technique. The smokiness of bacon and creaminess of cheddar cheese should have elevated the dish.
Reluctant servers, ignorance towards feedback, dropping quality – food is average, but the experience of eating in Glenary’s makes one come back.
Lesser-Known Food Joints
Dekevas is a small restaurant serving Tibetan food in Darjeeling adjacent to the Kunga and part of Hotel Dekeling. For weird reasons, the meat options were limited to only chicken but no pork! Kunga inspired steamed Chicken Momo, but the tough meat filling fell flat on the face. Momos were very dry and had no traces of juice. During chilly winter afternoon, lemon water with ginger and honey was soothing down the throat.
Tibetan food is known for its mild taste and is often served as not overly spicy, salty, or even too much flavour. Chicken Gyathuk was decent and topped with the omelette and some vegetables. The soup was thick, floury and lacked any salt. However, the table accompaniment of fiery chilli sauce did help to a certain extent.
The real saviour of the day was the Dragon Chicken Bao. Crispy boneless chicken chunks tossed in spicy Korean gochujang sauce and stuffed inside pillowy baos. It was insanely good and the best bao in the hill station. Excellent staff behaviour and takes spot feedback.
Darjeeling is getting introduced to the era of modern cafe culture. Though Starbucks is not present in the hill station, Himalayan Coffee is synonymous. The cafe is located opposite Glenary’s, in the first building. Whitewashed interiors with artificial creepers create a refreshing ambience with contrasting images on the wall. One may either opt for a window-side high chair or relaxed, low wooden chairs and watch the lazy street life outside.
The Nepalese coffee is excellent here, but the challenge is that the coffee machine does not operate during a power cut, and the cafe runs without coffee. Hot chocolate with a generous fresh whipped cream topping was excellent. Blueberry Cheesecake made a fantastic combination with a cappuccino. Red Velvet Cake was a disappointment.
Order taking is slow, and servers run around aimlessly. However, for its cappuccino and cheesecake, I highly recommend the cafe.
Tibetan cuisine is a typical go-to food in Darjeeling. But Darjeeling also has an option for Thai cuisine lovers. The Park restaurant is downhill from Keventer’s towards the clock tower (opposite SBI). We always prefer to sit on the covered rooftop.
Chicken Thai Green Curry made with fresh basil leaves, cilantro stems, kaffir lime, lemongrass, galangal, and creamy coconut milk is a treat to inhale and taste. The basil and cilantro provide vibrant colours to the curry. Chicken Thai Red Curry gets the colour from red chilli paste and similar ingredients that made an impression on our palate. Shrimp paste gives an umami flavour to both curries.
Prawn Pad Thai went perfectly with the curries. The flat rice noodles are one of Thailand’s most simple and delicious street food. The noodles were not sticking and clumping up. The noodles with supple prawns are stir-fried in a big wok on a high flame with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, shallots and palm sugar. The server did recommend trying Pork Roast. But the meat was not well done, along with poor meat to fat ratio, which downplayed the taste and experience.
Nawang’s Restaurant is a hidden hole on the wall behind Kev’s in Darjeeling. A cosy old-fashioned ambience with four tables and an open kitchen welcomes you as one opens the door. The owners were humble and immediately started chatting with us. We walked in during breakfast for Beef Shaphaley and Chicken Momo.
The Beef Shaphaley was a large fried meat pie crunchy on the outside with a crimped edge filled with juicy and flavorful meat. The filling was less to my preference, but the taste was incredible at just INR 60 apiece. It was one of the best shaphaleys I had in the hill station.
The Chicken Momos were very different to the ones we get in Kunga. Momos were crescent-shaped, steamed, and stuffed with mildly spiced minced chicken. One must not miss trying these with clear soup. Topped the momo slightly with chilli sauce and put it inside your mouth – the burst of chicken juice and flavour with a punch of chilli is bliss. The momos priced at INR 80 per plate get sold out very frequently.
Tom & Jerry’s Cafe
Tom & Jerry’s Cafe is a quaint 15 seater cafe inside an uphill alley from chowrasta through a market area. The cafe got a warm ambience and a nostalgic feel primarily due to the Tom & Jerry cartoon characters painted on the walls. The place is known for its Jumbo Chicken Burger. Fried chicken fillet stuffed inside bread along with sauteed vegetables and cheese. The french fries with the burger complete the platter. The food portion is bigger and reasonably priced in Darjeeling. Wash it down with steaming Ginger Lemon Honey Tea.
Do not miss English breakfast here. The owner is super friendly, and if you come once, there is a good chance you will be back again.
Sonam’s Kitchen is a tiny eatery located diagonally opposite Tom & Jerry’s Cafe. The eatery is inside a garage space with hardly three tables. Over 25 years old Nepalese eatery specialises in breakfast items like pancakes and hashbrowns. The ambience is simple with wooden walls, a few good photographs hanging from the wall and lots of books on shelves.
Pancakes were decent sized, light and fluffy as a cloud. It was topped with chopped bananas and nuts while drenched in chocolate syrup. The good old-fashioned hashbrown was crispy, but they did not add salt. Remember to sprinkle some salt after taking the first bite. The tomatoes were perfectly roasted too. Not a big fan of their beverages. But do call them in advance for Nepalese thali or food in Darjeeling.
Outside Darjeeling – Kurseong
Margaret’s Deck Tea Lounge
On the way back to NJP or Bagdogra, Margaret’s Deck at Kurseong is about 30 km away from Darjeeling. Goodricke’s new tea lounge overlooking Margaret’s Hope Tea Estate offers a visual treat of the rolling hills in front.
The Carrot Cake and Apple Walnut Cake goes off the shelves quickly, but we were lucky to have the last few slices to enjoy with our first flush pots. The Carrot Cake was delicious with a semi-moist crumb and good caramelisation of brown sugar. The taste enhanced once served warm. Apple Walnut Cake was a little moist, with traces of apples and walnuts in every bite. The warm temperature during serving improved the hint of cinnamon flavour.
Castleton First Flush was plucked in March 2021 and had a pale yellow liquor. The leaves were steeped in hot water for 4 to 5 minutes. Adjust the time of brewing as per desired strength. The rolled darkish green leaves yielded a well-made tea with a hint of fruitiness, accompanied by a soft and pleasing floral aroma. The aftertaste was smooth and clean without any bitterness.
Margaret’s Hope First Flush from April 2021 was plucked immediately after winter when the plants burst with succulent flavour. The bright yellow colour liquor is sweet, well balanced and smooth tasting. The tea has a delicate floral, fruity taste – it’s perfect for those who love a light yet flavourful brew.
The Pork Smoked Sausage was juicy, flavorful, and filled with woodsmoke flavours. Must enjoy these with mustard sauce, and the sausage here is better than Keventer’s. Still, the sausages were underdone to my preference. The pocket pinch is on the higher side. The food portion does not justify steep pricing. But we are paying for the experience and the view.
- Meat Platter at Keventer’s
- Pork Momo and Chilli Pork at Kunga
- Roast Pork at Glenary’s
- Dragon Chicken Bao at Dekevas
- Cappuccino and Blueberry Cheesecake at Himalayan Coffee
- Thai Curry and Prawn Pad Thai at The Park
- Beef Shaphaley at Nawang’s Restaurant
- Jumbo Chicken Burger at Tom & Jerry’s Cafe
- Pancake and Hashbrown at Sonam’s Kitchen
- Tea and Pork Smoked Sausage at Margaret’s Deck Tea Lounge
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Also, do read the Darjeeling travel blog about offbeat places.