This post was written by Sarah, author of the The Ordinary Vegetarian blog. Sarah recently visited India and was kind enough to write a guest post about her vegan eating adventures in the city of Darjeeling. Be sure to check out her blog for a vegan momo recipe.
When I told friends and family that one of my stops on my India trip was going to be Darjeeling, a common response was, “Darjeeling?.. Like the tea?” Yep, like the tea! Darjeeling’s namesake tea is what they are best known for, but they have much more to offer.
Darjeeling is nestled in the Himalayas of northeast India, at an altitude of 7000 feet. This hill top town has wonderful views of the hills and valleys below, and sprawled across the sky is Mount Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world. This area of India borders Nepal, Bhutan, and China, so it is a unique crossroad of cultures, with all of the above represented and more. The food in Darjeeling is as diverse as the people are. You can find food with Indian, Nepalese, Tibetan, Chinese, and Thai influences. We even happened upon a small pizza restaurant and an Irish pub! All of this may not sound that remarkable, but after eating Indian food for a week straight we welcomed the additional options.
I researched dining options ahead of time, and learned that momos are among the most popular of the local fare. Momos are Tibetan dumplings filled with vegetables or meat. I knew I had to try vegetable momos during my stay, and many places came highly recommended. One place in particular stood out from the rest, Hot Stimulating Café, because they offer informal momo making classes for a small fee of 600 Indian Rupees ($13.49 USD). I emailed the café in advance to secure a date and time for our momo class, and was told to just come on by anytime. Very informal indeed!
We strolled by the Hot Stimulating Café one morning to check it out and see about securing a lunch time class. We found the charmingly small café standing alone on the side of the road, right on the edge of a steep drop down the mountain. We snapped a photo of the outside and, at the same moment, the owner, Rumba, peeked out the window. He came out to greet us, and introduced himself as Rambo, immediately followed by a hearty chuckle because we had actually believed that his name was Rambo. Rumba reminded me of a cross between Carlos Santana and Indiana Jones, but with a better sense of humor. After finding out that we are from the US, he chatted with us a bit about American Idol and then we all agreed to lunchtime class before parting ways.
When we returned for our class, he sat us at one of the six small wooden booth-style tables inside and his wife served us a cup of the local tea. We sipped our tea and admired Bob Marley newspaper and magazine clippings taped up all over the walls. At the time the only other person in the café was a Nepali guy, likely in his late 20’s, with a long smooth black ponytail flowing all the way down his back. He was sitting on top of one of the other tables nearby, strumming on an acoustic guitar and singing. He soon switched over to playing a few current US hits that I recognized, but don’t know by name. It did not appear that he was there to eat, so we were pretty confused by his presence—and to be honest with you, this very candid performance was making me blush! (Sorry no picture of our mysterious guitar man!)
Once we finished our tea it was time to get to work. I was assigned to making the dough and Becca, my friend, started chopping cabbage. Next we grated carrots, and chopped some onions and ginger. Rumba stirred some hot oil into the mixture, along with a bit of mashed potato and salt to bring it all together. Then we started rolling out the dough, and he showed us two different techniques for crimping the edges. Becca caught on to the technique almost immediately and was crimping away. Rumba worked with me a little bit more as I practiced. Luckily we had enough dough and filling for like 100 of these things!
I continued to struggle with my momos, only some were turning out. I hadn’t noticed, but our one-man band had stopped playing and was suddenly standing right beside me. He picked up a piece of dough and told me to watch how he makes a momo. I mimicked him and had it down after only a few tries. I guess he had the right teaching style for me! He sat back down with his guitar and only spoke again after he was served a plate of our momos to say, “The momos are very good today!”
He wasn’t the only one who got a plateful—during the process of making the momos there was a slow trickle of people coming in. Suddenly, we noticed the tables were full, but no one was ordering. I soon figured out that we would be feeding the crowd! The neighborhood must know that when there are foreigners in there working, that means there will soon be free momos for everyone. The whole process took about 2 hours, then we finally sat down to a plate of freshly steamed momos. The payoff was sweet, my friends! These dumplings were amazing and I was proud to share them with the locals (even though many of mine were badly misshapen).
Overall I’d say my afternoon at Hot Stimulating Café is in my top 5 favorite experiences of my entire trip to India, and probably my favorite meal of all. If you are ever in Darjeeling I highly recommend stopping by for a class, and if you do, be sure to tell Rumba that Sarah from Illinois said hello! Oh, and if there is a guy there playing the guitar, would you mind taking his picture for me?
Hooker Road (Near Governor’s Palace)
Darjeeling – 734101, India
24×7 Contact: 91-99322-60769
To book a class, visit: http://hotstimulatingtreksntours.wordpress.com/