Mussoorie has a fairly large population of Tibetan refugees, some of whom have set up little markets where they sell everything from Tibetan trinkets and religious artefacts to clothing. A couple of the more enterprising ones have set up restaurants—and Kalsang Friends Corner, just opposite Mussoorie’s main post office, on the Mall, is a major landmark. At the other end of this little stretch of road is Domino’s, and two other important Indian chain restaurants: Nirula’s, and Café Coffee Day. Kalsang, unlike these others, doesn’t serve either Indian food or Western fast food: the cuisines here are Tibetan, Chinese, and Thai.
Kalsang is hard to miss: the façade is a bright red. We arrived at the restaurant after a walk down from Picture Palace—at the eastern end of the Mall—and discovered that the restaurant was full to the brim. A waiter, seeing us looking about dejectedly at the crowded tables, indicated that there was room upstairs. The staircase up is a narrow iron one. We made our way up, and found ourselves in a rather cramped little space, into which about half a dozen tables—all seating between four to six each—were shoved together. Two sides consisted of large windows looking out onto the street below; the other two were red-painted walls, with huge spread-out Chinese fans nailed to them. On the far wall—where the waiters picked up orders—was a ‘Free Tibet’ flag, and a portrait of the Dalai Lama. The waiters, in bright red satin tunics, looked interestingly dashing, but not especially professional.
While the menu at Kalsang does include Chinese and Thai food, don’t get your hopes up: these are the sort of dishes that are tailored to appeal to the average Indian palate, which tends to restrict itself to ‘Indian Chinese’ dishes like paneer or
vegetable Manchurian, honey chilli potatoes, sweet-and-sour chicken, and the like. There’s tom yam and som tam and some well-known Thai curries, but for us, at least, the most attractive part of the menu was the Tibetan section. This includes a range of Tibetan dishes, from the hearty, delicious soups known as thukpas and thenthuks, to momos (steamed or fried dumplings which are very popular even back home in Delhi), stir-fries, fried pastries, and so on.
Though the thukpas, especially the mixed meat one, sounded extremely tempting, both my husband and I weren’t feeling terribly hungry, so we decided to share two starters: a pork shaptak and a chicken shabhalay. With that, we ordered a fresh lemonade each.
The lemonade was brought within a couple of minutes, and proved to be an unusual take on the ‘fresh lime soda, sweet-and-salted’ that we’d ordered. This one was salted, not with normal table salt, but with rock salt, which gave it a really interesting flavour we hadn’t been expecting. Shortly after, the pork shaptak was served up: thinly sliced pork, stir-fried with a spicy red sauce, diced green bell peppers, and lots of diced onions. Not bad, but it was nothing out of the ordinary.
We were midway through the shaptak when the chicken shabhalay was served up, and this was really delicious. It consisted of a circular disc of pastry, about 3" across, that had been filled with a mixture of lightly spiced minced chicken, garlic and onions, and then deep-fried to a crisp golden. The red chilli sauce served on the side was fiery, but had little flavour besides that, so we ended up having the shabhalay on its own—and loved every bit of the three pieces that came on the plate.
Our meal cost us about Rs 500, including the lemonade. Although the ambience is nothing to write home about (Kalsang is pretty no-frills), the service is adequate, and we had no complaints about the food. For Mussoorie, where options for non-Indian food are relatively limited, that’s good enough.