Darjeeling Local Food & Drinks
And the best places to get them
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 subdivision 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 I 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.
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 restaurant Kunga
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.
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
that are located on Gandhi road.
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.
Places to get 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.
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.
Naga Platter in Revolver Restaurant
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a typical Nepali item which is prepared at local homes. You won't usually get it at any restaurant. So again you need a local friend to try this out. It is actually not a dish by itself. It's prepared for flavor and typical strong smell. Green leaves of plants like mustard, radish, cauliflower etc are left for fermenting over one or two days. Then they are dried up naturally under the sun and it becomes Gundruk (with a strong acidic smell). The shredded dry leaves can be then mixed with vegetables or prepared with onions & radish to give it a unique flavor & taste.
Well this is something that has put Darjeeling firmly into the world map of tea and this is the place where you get the original 'Champaign of teas'. Unless you have a cup of authentic Darjeeling tea, chat with the tea room owner, listen to some music and enjoy the wonderful view of the valley, you would miss out something that you will regret for long. I have discussed all the best places to drink Darjeeling tea here: Best places to drink & buy Darjeeling Tea
This is a salted tea (usually prepared with tea bags) and mixed with butter to give it a unique taste. You will find it in many Tibetan restaurants. Another version is the Lemon Tea with ginger and honey. This hot concoction is served with a stirrer (usually a tea spoon). As you stir the tea, it takes a wonderful golden tinge. Tastes delicious too. My favorite places to try the lemon tea with ginger & honey are Kunga
on Gandhi Road and Sonam's Kitchen
on Zakir Hussain Road.
This is a local brew like a beer which is prepared from millets by fermenting with yeast. It is served in a bamboo made glass and to be had with a bamboo pipe. The fermented millet is topped with warm water. The water is refilled couple of times until the millet loses its potency. While there is no alcohol in it, it can be quite intoxicating if had in large quantity.
The best places for Tongba in Darjeeling
One of the best places and the most popular ones (mostly with foreign tourists though) is the small tin shack restaurant Hot Stimulating Cafe
located on the way to HMI & Zoo. It is actually in a walking distance from the Mall. Lily, a local lady is the owner. The brew here is prepared by the grandmother of Lily's husband. You will find many tourists having this drink along with vegetarian momos until late hours at night. I have tried this here once. While Lily claims that it is like a light beer, I found it quite strong though :) Another place where you will get Tongba is at the stalls outside the Rock Garden
where a country fair is held on Sundays.
Orange orchards at several places in Darjeeling district have been producing oranges since more than two centuries, and they are unique compared to the ones that you see from Nagpur or the west. Oranges of Darjeeling are smaller, a bit pale in color and have thing skin. But when comes to taste and smell, they beat almost all varieties.
Darjeeling oranges near Mirik - Picture taken in
early October when they are not yet ripe.
Darjeeling Oranges are supposed to be sweetest of the lot. Actually the taste and the flavor varies depending on the location of the orchard. The ones from Kurseong are the sweetest of the lot, while the ones from Mongpu are very juicy. And if you pick up oranges from Kalimpong, they are both juicy and sweet. Another unique thing, the flavor or the smell of Darjeeling orange is quite different from the ones of the west. The smell and the taste linger on your taste buds for a much longer time :)
Oranges ripen during the winter time (typically in November / December) when they are available in abundance all across Darjeeling. Unfortunately due to lack of promotion, Darjeeling oranges are hardly seen outside the district of Darjeeling. You will seldom find them beyond Siliguri at the lower plains.
Emunah Rankin (September 2014)
Raj, Thanks for your awesome and informative site! I am an American planning a trip to Darjeeling mainly for tea tourism. I am wondering weather it is safe for me (for example) to drink the tea offered on Tiger Hill or to eat samosas at the stalls that pop up in Batasia loop in the early morning. In what situations/environments can I consider the food/drink safe, and in which situations should I generally avoid raw food/beverages? Is it safe to drink the tea in most of the tea gardens? I would hate to get sick and spoil my fun. Thanks!
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) September 2014
Hi, while roadside food in Darjeeling area like Samosas are okay for average Indians, being a foreigner you should avoid that by all means. In fact you should avoid any food sold in the open. When it comes to tea or any beverages, you should take that if prepared using mineral or packaged drinking water. In Tiger Hill they don't do that, but in tea gardens, they mostly use packaged water as otherwise it's difficult to produce the original Darjeeling tea flavor/aroma (but do check it out before tasting). As a thumb rule, you should only drink Mineral/Packaged water in the hills even if the hotel or any restaurant says their water is filtered and safe to drink.
Nachiket Marathe (February 2014)
Amazing info. I am going to Darjeeling, Pelling and Gangtok on my second honeymoon in March 2014. Will keep in mind to discover these eateries. Local beer is definitely I want to try.