Come whatever may, a normal regular Kolkattan will visit three places in his / her life. And, surprisingly, the place’s name is “Di-pu-Da”- now don’t get me wrong. They are basically, Digha Puri and Darjeeling- the three mascots of tourism in and around West Bengal. So, if it’s a one night or two night holiday, Digha is thought off (Madarmanai is still a newbie) and for a long holiday, sea means Digha and mountain means Darjeeling- period.
So, Reaching Darjeeling is not a problem, but reaching Siliguri or rather New Jalpaiguri (NJP) is. Though there are multiple overnight trains available, hardly, tickets are. And, for some strange reason, within 2 minutes of website starting the booking operation, they tend to get filled. Flight till Bagdogra is the last option, because, I am not considering the backbreaking 15+ hours bus journey. A better option, but the flight timings are little strange. However ….. this time, we got the train tickets.
A car from NJP/ Bagdogra to Darjeeling will set you aback for roughly 2000/-, but what the heck. But, please make sure of something. When your climb uphill starts, ask the driver to stop at one of the roadside dhabas and he’ll make sure to stop at some place, where he gets his share of free food. Don’t worry, they are all same. The momos are lovely along with some coriander flavored steaming bowl of Maggi/ Wai Wai and owners will be disinterested. There will be one over-energetic dog (mostly local breed) and he’ll take care of your kid. Time always seems to stand still there, and you can enjoy your time with no hurry. You’ll even forget the name of the place you had been to within an hour, but what’s there in a name, as long as the food’s hot and tasty …
After the tiring night journey and a heavy breakfast, a sleep is needed and do carry on with your afternoon siesta. Driver will wake you up once you reach Darjeeling. Well, numerous hotels are there, so, please do not worry. We got on a hotel called Hotel Nirvana. It’s a small and cozy place, very near to Rajbhavan and just next to the view point there. The long glass window gave us a glimpse of the majestic snow-range whenever wherever we wished.
Though my wife insisted on a sight seeing tour and I am no brave soul to not listen to her….. ahem … request, I was there in Darjeeling with a single point agenda- to behave like a seasoned glutton. Darjeeling is said to be THE place for good tibetan as well as old-world colonial food, and I was hell-bent on exploring that.
If you’re in Darjeeling, your first stop has to be the Keventers. It’s located just beside the famous Tea Planters Club and the Clock Tower. Go straight to the first floor seating area praying there is a vacant seat. Because once you get a seat, even you won’t plan to leave anytime soon. The majestic Kanchenjunga will lie there in front of you with her full glory and trust me, it’s breathtaking.
Opt for Table no 1 or talk to the owner Mr Rahul Jha beforehand. Trust me, it’s worth being friends with him,. Otherwise, he won’t offer you his secret item- Ham and Cheese. But first things first. Even before you check the menu card, ask for their Hot Chocolate. You might feel you’re not a chocolate – guy, even I am not. But, once you see that mug with nice bubbles coming out and chocolaty aroma filling your inside, even the scenic view will start fading from your sight and all that’ll remain are those mugs. Okay everybody commits some mistakes, so even you’ll order their famed Keventers meat platter and realize in due time, that it’s actually a huge, boring fried stuff where everything- sausage, meatloaf, salami and bacon tastes almost the same.
But by that time, in all probablities, the small portion of ham & cheese has reached your table (remember the gyan about being friends …) and you’ll feel slightly relieved. Putting the cheese slice on the cured ham and luring it with small bites, ahhh….. world is a lovely place- you’ll be able to hear your inner voice.
But, somebody might need some carbs, so go for their meatloaf sandwich. They’re some simple lovely non-grilled (thankfully) staff, good old fashioned and thankfully, less oily. But, let oil not stop you. Your last order should be their Pork burger (suggested by Mr Ayan ghosh). Trust me, it’s nothing like you’ve ever tasted. Imagine a hot dog bread filled with minced meat and deep fried. Oil is still dripping from it’s midriff and the first bite will be one hell of a sinful one. “F%^k calories and let me live for a day”- were the words that came out from my mouth.
Don’t be in a hurry and rush around. You have around 2 hours time in hand to roam around in thr mall- just 7-8 min walking distance. After all, you’ll need to make some space for lunch. I know there is Golden Tips, but that needs a separate post.
Now, if the breakfast is a royal one, let the lunch be subtle. Go for the Dekeva’s restaurant, Hotel Dekeling beside clock tower, and not the next door, Kunga …. that’s kept for some other day.
It remains mostly empty, maybe because of the fierce competition next door, but why should it matter to you ? Be bold and get in. I’d suggest for their Thenthuk (basically flat pasta types in semi-thick broth of meat) and chicken Momo. Don’t get me wrong please. My son doesn’t eat beef, so, chicken was the only option. The food is nothing great, but simple home-styled one. There’s nobody to take orders. You’ll need to write it down on the pad provided and food will be cooked fresh and served. It might take some time, but it’s a holiday- right ?
For main course, we had shredded pork with bamboo shoot and sweet and sour pork along with some fried rice. The pork with bamboo shoot was damn good, sweet and sour pork was good and fried rice was extremely ordinary. But, overall, considering the huge quantity and competitive pricing, definitely recommended.
For dinner, I’d suggest the old favorite in Darjeeling, the time tasted Glenary’s. I can bet, as a middle aged man, I loved it’s typical old world charm. The fireplace was burning and christmas carol was being played. Some Hot Toddy gave us company, while the world outside was passing by.
Go straight to the first floor restaurant. There will be lot of items on the menu card and at times pretty confusing. But, maybe some good sense came upon me (yes, at times they do), I’ve ordered for their mac & cheese with bacon and unluckily, to please my son, chicken Pizza. The Mac & Cheese was love. Ample amount of cheese went in with sufficient amount of chopped bacon and finally, au gratin-ed. But, pizza was a disaster and better to be avoided. Whereas, on the second day, we ordered for their Roast Pork chop with chips. It was a gem. 70-30 meat-fat ratio, three pcs of juicy, soft pork were cooked with orange sauce and served with ample of french fries. Do not, I repeat, do not miss it. The fish and chips rather, is a standard one- good, but nothing exceptional. And BTW, I hope you’re not expecting Kolkata Betki here.
And I am saving best for the last- THE Kunga. It’s just beside Deveka’s. It’s a small, non-descript joint. Just like few saints do not shout around about their work, it’s the same here. They don’t publicize, but are always full and brimming with clients. Fantastic food and prompt service are the key-pointers. In Darjeeling, the general portion size, in any restaurant, is pretty big- it’s the same here. The primary challenge would be to find a seat – but I guess being a seasoned foodie, you can manage that.
I was going on a ordering spree, but the waiter warned me “WE have a large portion size sir, please order less”and he was right. I opted for their chicken phing soup- a non-descript average glass noodle soup (with ample meat). “Ïs it worth all the hype ?” My wife as usual was questioning my judgement. But the next couple was dry chilly pork with steamed rice. And, it clearly bowled us out. Fierce, dry, rustic piece of meat and chilly with very less distraction of onion- that’s it. I can safely vouch this as the best chilly pork I’ve ever tasted in my life- period. Pair it with steamed rice and it’s sheer orgasm.
At junior’s age, everyboy acts foolishly smart and he was no exception in ordering some chowmien. It’s good, but after the master, nothing else really mattered.
The food scenario in Darjeeling is definitely good and is a must visit spot for any foodie. And, Keventers and Kunga are pure gems, which I’ll remember for a long, long time.
So, is it over at Darjeeling ? Definitely not. Apart from the cult places (I am sure, there are many more, for which I’ll have to come back), there are few lesser known champions as well, who’ve made their mark in the foodie world.
Till then, Bon apetit !!!
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