Located against the backdrop of the mighty Dhauladhar range in the Himalayas, this quaint town in western Himachal Pradesh is the humble abode of his Holiness, the Dalai Lama. The town draws thousands of visitors across nationalities, each year. No wonder then, strong western influences are visible in Dharamshala’s food and culture, in addition to its inherent Tibetan’ness’.
This post captures some of the must-visit eateries in Dharamshala – both, the popular Tibetan ones as well as the foreign ones. Any meal against a backdrop of towering hills, enveloped in fresh mountain air is bound to be rejuvenating but some of the local eateries are more equal than others. The first few are Tibetan eateries, followed by other popular cafes and joints that serve unique food.
Shop Numer 4 (that’s what it’s known as) is a small and perhaps the oldest Tibetan shop in Mcleodganj, Dharamshala. It is known for the two food items it serves – Momos (both steamed as well as fried) and Thupka. For an eatery serving only two items, this old shop draws huge crowds for its fresh momos and flavourful thukpa. The Mutton momos are a must try here – they have a filling of minced mutton along with local spices, onion and garlic – all the filling ingredients are grated and sautéed before being stuffed into the momo jackets. The thupka gained popularity due to the extra soft noodles that are used in it. Freshly prepared, steaming hot thupka is a perfect meal at any time of the day in this hilly town.
Note: The noodles used in the thupka are home made by the owner herself. Made of a mixture of refined flour and eggs, they are soft and fresh.
Must try: Momos. Also Serves: Thukpa
Immensely popular, this is one of the eateries serving delicious, authentic Tibetan food. Top two recommended dishes include lamb alu phingsha (along with tingmo bread which is like a steamed bun) and Chicken Momos (authentic chicken momos, quite different from what is available across Indian streets). Lamb alu phingsha is a popular Tibetan dish consisting of vermicelli, lamb and potatoes. The Bok Choy soup is also a popular starter (Bok Choy is a variety of cabbage which is quite popular in north eastern states of India). Tibet Kitchen also serves a variety of dishes from the north-east of India.
Note: This eatery is usually always crowded and noisy. However, the food makes up for the slight lack of ambience.
Must try: Chicken Momos, Lamb alu phingsha. Also Serves: Bok Choy Soup
Who wouldn’t like to try rich, creamy chocolate filled buns? Sangye’s Kitchen is known for their Chocolate momos, their outer cover perfectly steamed to be a thin wrap and the stuffing smooth, creamy chocolate. The other dish that comes highly recommended is the Thenthuk, which is perfect for cool Dharamshala evenings, especially during the winters. Thenthuk is flavoursome broth, usually freshly made, and consisting of different vegetables, meat and noodles.
The best part about Sangye’s Kitchen is perhaps the fact that they offer cooking classes for anyone keen on learning how to cook the dishes they serve.
Note: Chocolate Momos are served at Sangye’s Kitchen only on Tuesdays and Thurdays only as a ‘Special’ menu item.
Must try: Chocolate momos, Thenthuk. Also serves: Thupka
When one speaks of ‘Moonlight Café the first thing that comes to mind is the steaming Masala Chai. A trip to the mountains calls for endless cups of hot tea. Moonlight Café’s tea is so good that there is a high chance of visitors consuming copious amounts of it … hardly anyone stops at a single chai ka pyala (cup of tea). This is one of the best cafes for breakfast with a menu offering banana pancakes, waffles and even shakshukas. Shakshuka is a gravy with poached eggs in a tomato base, topped with peppers, cumin seeds and fried onions.
For those with a sweet tooth, the Bhagsu Cake is a must-try local delicacy. It is a local cake preparation of Dharamshala , named after the famous Bhagsu Village in Mcleodganj. The crust has bread and caramel and the filling inside is pure chocolate.
Note: Moonlight Cafe offers a variety of low calorie breakfast options consisting of whole grain foods and cereals. Perfect for the calorie-consious.
Must try: Bhagsu Cake. Also Serves: Masala Chai
A café cum bookshop, this is one of those places where you can spend time on a good book (excellent collection available) while enjoying a savoury meal. The owner of the cafe is Dutch (and speaks fluent hindi!) and hence the menu has an interesting variety of options. The pumpkin soup is an all time hit – chunks of pumpkin with a hint of ginger along with figs, carrots and nuts. Their spinach ravioli served with freshly grated Parmesan cheese is another hot favourite.
Must try: Spinach Ravioli, Pumpkin Soup.
This is one of the best places in Dharamshala for sizzlers, all smoked up and neatly dressed with colourful veggies and mashed potatoes. The schezwan sauce served along with the sizzlers adds to the overall spice and flavour. The Grilled Chicken is also very appetizing and is served with juliennes of vegetables tossed in cream. Another item to try is the Spanish Omelet stuffed with vegetables, herbs and grated cheese.
Note: The food portions are large so order accordingly.
Must try: Vegetable Sizzler, Grilled Chicken. Also Serves: Spanish Omelet.
The most sought after place for all kinds of pastries, tarts, pies and muffins, this is a must-visit for its delectable deserts. The crunchy walnut pastry with its caramelized notes is a specialty and is served with a generous helping of nuts. The carrot cake is delightfully moist and the cream cheese frosting makes it irresistbly good. And finally, the coffee served here is among the best in Dharamshala.
Note: They serve Vegan food as well.
Must try: Walnut Pastry. Also Serves: Carrot Cake
Taste of India offers a vast selection of Indian food, catering to both vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian travelers. Chicken Tikka is a hot favourite among non-vegetarians. For vegetarians, roasted capsicum is highly recommended. Infact their roasted vegetables dish – mushrooms, cheese and tomatoes – is delicious.
Note: There is a LIVE music performance every Friday that is always fun to attend.
Must try: Chicken Tikka. Also Serves: Roasted Vegetables
The last but highly recommended eating place on this list is the Monastery Kitchen in Dharamshala. This is no fancy eating joint but the pious kitchen located within the temple premises of the monastry of his Holiness – the Dalai Lama. While in Mcleodganj, do stop here to eat with the Lamas. The food is simple, yet flavoursome and wholesome and something about the ambience makes it a very special meal. There is a whole range of options right from zucchini vegetables to homemade buns, mushroom soup to fresh salad. They also offer the normal north Indian meals. Seasonal fruit puddings are a good way to finish a meal.
Note: A special Tibetan tea is served here after each meal. This tea, which is popular in places such as Ladakh also, is salty and more like a light soup. The lamas believe that this tea helps in digestion.
Must try: Zucchini Vegetables, Freshly baked buns. Also Serves: Seasonal fruit pudding.