McLeod Ganj. Food. Skies. Stories.

The long weekend, thanks to Gandhi Jayanti, was spend in McLeod Ganj – a much needed and rightly deserved break. While it took my lungs a few minutes to get used to the clean(er) air, my eyes were getting used to the breathtaking view. I won’t get into details about the place and shall stick to what captured my heart (stomach, rather) – the food. Simplicity at its best and purest.

The day of arrival I walked around the alleys in search of my soul. Couldn’t find it, hence settled for breakfast – Momos stuffed with potatoes and spinach. These were almost like pot stickers. Almost. They weren’t the regular momos you’d get out here in the big cities. These were stuffed and steamed buns, then lined on a hot griddle for that nice char on each side. I’m clearly not good with descriptions, but I hope I was able to paint a mental picture. I don’t have a picture of it, unfortunately.

For lunch I did what the locals do – thukpa. The local restaurants are small, cozy and a joy. We ordered for a pork thukpa, a chicken one and chilli chicken on the cook’s recommendation. He then came back from the kitchen to tell us that there’s no meat, but only pork fat and would that be ok with us. We went ahead with it anyway. I forgot to mention that I was suffering from a cold and temperature. Thukpa was just what the doctor had ordered (or he wishes). I’m no good with adjectives either, so let me just stick with – holy smokes it was bloody good! The thukpa opened up my senses, nostrils in particular. Despite the cold I could tell the broth tasted great. So did the infamous pork fat. The chilli chicken was, well like chilli chicken. Plain good. I’d also got myself some hot lemon tea. It was so good I could hardly contain myself. It was like granny’s lemonade, but hot and with a hint of tea which came with the tea bag of course.

Post lunch I walked by this little kiosk of treats. I got 2 – a slice of baked yak cheese with coconut and cream, and a local chocolate and nuts bar. The yak cheese slice was moist and delicious. I call it the love child of a cheesecake and pound cake. It also came with a disclaimer that it wasn’t going to be as sweet as we thought. Which exactly was the case and yet oh-so-delicious. The chocolate and nut bar was just about alright. Chocolate and nuts. A short and very sweet love story, which I wasn’t too pleased to be a part of.

Continuing the quest for my soul, aka just good food, I found another little place called the Four Seasons Cafe. Food that definitely hit the spot here. We had a good old spinach and cheese omlette and a Chicken Soutsemen – which is a first for me. Pan fried noodles topped with oodles of gravy with vegetables and chicken. Definitely going to replicate this one at home.

In between some walking around and taking random pictures like a wannabe traveler, I got hungry again. Eyes wandered (so did I) and landed on Tibetan Kitchen. Got myself some steamed buns and sliced pork in pickle gravy. It was exactly that. Sliced pork in pickle gravy. It’s like they watered down some mango pickle (salivating as I write pickle) and put a few pork slices in there. No, I’m not complaining. It was sour and spicy – what’s not to like. Mopping up all the ‘pickle gravy’ with the pork bun, we walked back to the hotel.

On the way back I saw the same kiosk full of treats looking back at me. I gave in and got a couple of different treats this time – yak muffin and a local cookie (I don’t remember its name). The muffin was light, soft and had the slightest hint of cheese – assuming it’s from the yak. The cookie, thin coconut biscuit sandwich with jam, was forgettable – like its name.

For dinner I found this place which had a big poster of the show Highway on my plate at their entrance – looked like they gave the restaurant their stamp of approval. Alas, what a disappointment. Ordered the Tibetan Thali and pork chilli. Both were under seasoned and underwhelming. The thukpa was as if over cooked slices of vegetables were just put in hot water with some noodles. The pork chilli had no chilli and I don’t think the pork was happy being a part of that dish either.

The next morning I was up and shining along with the sun to get some breakfast, of course. I didn’t want to make it a morning trek to find a place and settled for a cafe close to the hotel. Carpe Diem Restaurant. Got ourselves a French and an English breakfast – just to make up for the less than impressive dinner the previous night. It was the usual suspect with the English breakfast – eggs, sausages, ham, bacon, the works. The French one came with eggs scrambled with peppers.

For lunch I picked yet another teeny-tiny-hole-in-the-wall kind of a restaurant called Yak. Best Chowmein ever. I don’t know what else to say. It was right in every way. We also got the fried mutton momos. I’d give it a pass the next time around. It’s double fried momos with a bland mutton stuffing. It was so crispy it turned hard and wasn’t pleasant to eat at all. But the Chowmein was bang on the money.

This was the last day here and we had a couple of hours to kill before leaving. I spotted this little cafe on the basement floor (if it’s called that) called Woeser Bakery that still has my heart. The most warm and welcoming owner makes you feel at ease as soon as you walk in. She’ll tell you that the cafe’s menu in on top (horizontal black board) and dessert samples are placed at the window. She advertised about her handmade cappuccino and that no one else in town does it. I quickly get one of those and a paradise bar, which is basically a biscuit base bar with a brown sugar caramel and coconut topping. The coffee was the best cappuccino I’ve ever had. Good strong coffee sweetened with brown sugar and I don’t know what else she does to it that makes it taste so damn good. The paradise bar was a tad too sweet for my liking. I then ordered the Tibetan butter tea. It was a revelation for sure. It was unlike any other tea I’ve ever had. Salty, buttery and comforting.

With a heavy heart and full belly, I left McLeod Ganj promising I’ll be back. But we both know about a tourist’s empty promises. If I were a traveller, she’d have understood.

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