On the road trip curated by Scout My Trip and OYO, it was during our tea/food stops that I interacted with the locals who with their simple yet tasty food and warm hearts, nourished not just my body but also connected with me on a humane level. Here are my top 5 food stops from the road trip:
- Punchok Wangdus, Khardong Nubra
Aamir Khan in the movie 3 Idiots won hearts portraying his character named Phunsukh Wangdu. In Khardong Nubra, there is a restaurant run by Punchok Wangdus. Curious I ask him the obvious question of whether it is his real name. I guess he was quite used to the question as he smiled and pointed to a certificate framed next to him. “Yes, my real name is Punchok Wangdus and the movie 3 Idiots has helped my restaurant. Many people stop by to click photos with me,” says the 49 year old resident of Khardong.
Punchok is helped by his son Norbu who studies BSc in Jammu and comes over in his vacations to help his dad. The ginger tea, chowmein and parathas prepared by Punchok were refreshing and yummy and though I didn’t get myself clicked with him, his smiling face is a picture that I carried onward with me.
- Norbu Dolma’s Tea Stall, Changthang
When we stopped at a tea stall which was about 43 kms before Tso Moriri, I didn’t know that I would get to drink such delicious black tea, a staple found in Ladakh. The tea stall which is a no frills white coloured tent is run by Norbu Dolma. Evenings see more tourists visit not just for chai but also for maggi and wai wai, the other two favourites eaten in Ladakh.
You can even ask her to add egg to your maggi. Norbu works for 3 months- July, August and September and the rest of the year looks after her home in a nearby village. If you are enroute to Tso Moriri then do drop in.
- Angchok and Skalzang Youdon near Thujey Gompa in More plains
Both these eateries are next to each other and inside tents. Skalzang Youdon is run by Jigmet Dorje and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. While we ate maggi, wai wai and drank chai, we took chocolates and biscuits for the journey ahead. Jigmet has been running the eatery since the last 3 years and it operates from July to September. The rest of the year he is a driver in Leh. When I ask him which occupation he prefers from the two, without any hesitation he replies that he loves running this restaurant as he gets to interact with tourists coming to Ladakh and since he belongs to Tso Kar, location wise it is more convenient.
Wishing to eat rice, dal and subji I enter Angchok and it is love at first sight with Lamo, an adorable 2 year old who is scampering about smiling at guests and making victory signs complete with a pout. Angchok is run by Lamo’s mother Angmo and you can also order maggi, wai wai, tea and cold drinks. Angmo has named the restaurant after her husband and she also runs the restaurant for 3 months. The rest of the year she is based in Leh where she knits gloves and socks.
- Koksar Cafe, Koksar
Koksar was the place the non vegetarians in our group were yummily waiting for since it serves mouth watering meat chawal. We stopped at Koksar Café run by Karma. The most popular dish of this 17 year old eatery without any doubt is the meat chawal followed by dahi kadhi and rajma chawal. The local meat is soft, succulent and finger licking good. Most of the groceries are sourced from Manali while potatoes, green peas and cabbage are grown here.
- Sangam Dhaba, Tandi
Since the petrol pump at Tandi didn’t have diesel, we ended up stopping at Sangam Dhaba near the petrol pump. Run by the husband wife duo of Sukh Dayal and Maandasi, at the dhaba you can order sloopy noodles, milky chai, omelets and biscuits. While it’s exterior is done in typically Himachali architecture, the interiors give a psychedelic feel due to the blue tarpaulin. The masala chai is made using fresh milk from the cows the couple own. The dhaba is open from 4.30 am -10 pm.
A retired government employee, Sukh Dayal says they run the eatery because they love listening to stories of the tourists who drop by. Contented with their life and still very much in love after being married for 44 years, the couple run Sangam Dhaba in the months of June, July and August and leave for Manali in September. Nature takes its course and the snow settles in the dhaba as they remove the tarpaulin before leaving. In May, they come back and reset Sangam dhaba.