One of my top tips for a snack lunch in Darjeeling is the canteen at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute which offers super-cheap filling food, wholesome and filling enough to help you go out and climb a mountain in the afternoon. It’s worth knowing this place is there or you’ll probably miss it.
After a visit to the Tibetan Refugee Centre, we asked our driver to drop us at the Zoo. The Zoo and the HMI share an entrance and an entrance ticket. As a foreigner it will cost you 100 rupees to get in and a few more for a camera permit and this gives entrance to both sites. If you don’t have time for a full visit to the zoo, my recommendation is to not miss the Himalayan Black Bears and the Red Pandas.
Entrance to the HMI is up quite a steep driveway – you can’t really claim that it’s steep when you’re going to a mountaineering place. On this occasion we weren’t going to look at their fabulous displays about the history of Himalayan mountaineering – we were just looking for the canteen. This place is designed for students at the HMI but they don’t turn away hungry tourists.
It’s a bit of a scruffy looking place with tables outside and a few more inside. They have just four indoor tables and a small open kitchen at the back of the building from which a couple of men and a few pans can rustle up an impressively long list of Indian and Chinese dishes. They serve cheap food with quite a lot of reliance on noodles although a full veg thali will cost you just 70 rupees and a cup of Darjeeling tea is 20 rupees.
We ordered two portions of momos, my absolutely favourite mountain food. 8 of these super little half-moon treats cost just 30 rupees and we ordered a portion each and washed them down with Limca, the local lemon soda. They can be bought steamed or fried but we always go for the steamed and eat them with ultra hot chili sauce. The pasta is stuffed with shredded vegetables and then steamed over water. They are delicious.
There are two small toilet cubicles which are clean but basic, a wash basin and a couple of large fridges full of cold drinks. When you’ve finished, just walk outside to the cashier’s desk and pay. Lunch for two of us cost just 80 rupees – at current rates that’s 80 pence.