Food that warms the soul in Darjeeling and Gangtok
On a recent ‘moms and sons’ trip to Darjeeling, we waited endlessly to board the cable car that would allow a lovely view of the majestic mountains and green valleys. We’d made a mad dash to the ticket counter and returned victorious. About 45 minutes later, after small talk and sharing notes with fellow tourists, we were dreadfully peckish. Someone in the line stepped out and returned with a plate of noodles. That was the signal we needed.
We traded our tickets with someone who looked like they’d cry without a cable car ride, and set out to locate the origin of the decadent plate. And lo, we found Urmila and Ambika, two friendly women manning a shack that sold noodles, tea and momos. And, that was where I fell in love with noodles, and renewed my affection for momos.
Even before we asked, Ambika handed out momos — eight to a plate — with a fiery chutney. The momos were translucent and the filling was unlike what we’d eaten anywhere else. What’s it, I asked Urmila, who was busy rolling out more to keep up with the demand, even as she stirred a pot of instant noodles. “Take a guess,” she said, before revealing what it was. Good old squash! The watery vegetable is finely chopped and mixed with garlic and onion before it is ensconced in a casing and steamed. Two adults and two kids polished off six plates of momos and two of noodles, and adrak chai.
A year ago, reading up on the organic farming culture in the country, an article popped up — Sikkim was India’s first fully organic State. And so, my ‘vegetarian’ mind teemed with images of what could possibly greet me in Gangtok — flavourful broccoli, cauliflower and red potatoes, fresh green peas, carrots, turnips and radish that crackled with goodness. I was not wrong. But, once there, it was again momos for lunch every single day. The cost was as delicious — Rs. 30 or Rs. 40.
A day before we left, our homestay host Kabita and the cook Sushma churned out dishes that traced their origins to all over Asia. The winner was thuppa, a flavourful Tibetan broth with vegetables and noodles topped with fried onions and spring onion.
It was winter, and as we slurped on the life-giving soup, a warmth pervaded our bodies, and heart.
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