A Food Walk Through Delhi’s Tibetan Refugee Colony - Homegrown

A Food Walk Through Delhi’s Tibetan Refugee Colony

Take a rickshaw from the Vidhan Sabha metro station, cross the pedestrian flyover and suddenly, you are not in Delhi anymore. Small and tranquil lanes with pictures of the Dalai Lama hanging on the walls of every shop. Hidden between tall buildings and colourful triangular flags. Monks walk around sharply yet solemnly dressed in red and yellow robes and an uncommon aura of silence and pleasant scents teleports you to a different universe.

Majnu Ka Tilla is a refugee settlement in North Delhi by the side of the Yamuna river. The neighbourhood emerged following Tibet’s uprising in 1959 when the Dalai Lama went into exile and flew away from the mountains bringing thousands of people with him. Nowadays, apart from a preserved fragment of Tibetan culture, New Aruna Nagar (as the colony is officially named) is a hip destination for tourists and undergraduates, looking for the amazing food, low prices and good vibes.

Indeed, the food there is great. Himalayan cooks surely know how to make a meal and the village has several restaurants offering traditional Tibetan food. We spent some time around Majnu Ka Tilla, exploring every corner of the village in the quest for tasty dishes and peculiar flavours, and crafted the ideal guide for Delhi’s Little Tibet. Skip breakfast, prepare your wallet, and head to Majnu Ka Tilla with this Homegrown exclusive:

Photographed by Lucas Batista


STARTERS

Our journey begins with a bowl of Laping, a cold dish made of flat mung bean noodles. Laping is Tibetan street food at its finest, and there are ladies selling the dish at the entrance of the village and close to the Buddhist temple. The slippery food is seasoned with A LOT of chilli and green onions, and you can also ask for soy sauce gravy for an extra taste. Just be careful with the condiments, as the dish is already smoking hot.

Laping street shop; photographed by Lucas Batista

COFFEE BREAK

A couple of turns lead to several street shops selling all kinds of Tibetan souvenirs. Walk a little more and there’s a small sign that points to AMA Café – Let the smell of fresh coffee beans guide the way up the stairs and if you’re lucky to get a seat, order a Yak Tibetan Cheesecake with a cup of Butter Tea. In case you don’t like Yak cheese (it’s an acquired taste), there’s a big diversity of desserts and sweets to choose from. AMA is a popular place among Majnu Ka Tilla’s youth and is regularly crowded with couples and groups of friends hanging around on lazy afternoons.

AMA Cafe; image source: DU Beat
Tibetan Cheese Cake, Cost: INR 450 for two; image source: LBB

SIESTA

After a while in one of AMA’s comfortable sofas, get ready to go ahead. At the end of the village, a small park lies as the colony’s hidden secret: Choose a bench in the middle of the colourful flags filled with mantras and listen to the chirp of the birds while sitting among the trees.

Majnu Ka Tilla Park; photographed by Lucas Batista

It’s not unusual to spot someone sleeping on the park, caught by the dozy atmosphere the area emanates. It’s a relief to the senses and a pleasurable escape from the Delhi heat and crowd. A few moments of peaceful meditation later, hit back to the village and prepare the belly for the main course.

MAIN COURSE

If you are a vegetarian, the canteen at the Drepung Loseling Monastery serves delicious Thukpa – noodle soup with a mix of cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and a few spices and herbs. Thukpa is a simple and warming food made from the limited choice of vegetables that can grow on the cold Tibetan plateaus. The monastery canteen is one of Majnu Ka Tilla’s most serene eateries, and it’s common to share the room with Buddhist monks in their lunch or dinner break.

Photographed by Lucas Batista
Thukpa from the Drepung Loseling Monastery; photographed by Lucas Batista

Close to the monastery canteen is Big Apple, a restaurant famous for the spinach and cheese Momos. The steamed dumplings are one of the most traditional delicacies that spread with the Tibetan diaspora, and although it’s easy to find them almost everywhere in Delhi, these momos are the real deal. We recommend a refreshing homemade pineapple beer to go with them.

Buffaloes and Yaks are also important providers for the Tibetan diet, both for their high nutritious value and the richness of flavours. There are plenty of non-veg outlets around Majnu Ka Tilla, but real carnivores should head to Dolma House. The small, cosy restaurant also works as a guesthouse for the passing travellers, and although food might take a while to come (as Dolma is often packed to the fullest), the wait is totally worth it.

Order one Tingmo, a tasty and soft steamed bun, and choose from one of the non-vegetarian items on the menu – we got the sliced buffalo with mushroom oyster sauce, and heavily recommend it. A table close to the window gives a nice view of the street, where you can watch the people passing by while enjoying mouthwatering food.

Tingmo from Dolma House; photographed by Lucas Batista
Sliced Buffalo with Mushroom Oyster Sauce at Dolma House; Photographed by Lucas Batista

Before heading back home, make sure to drop by the main square and observe the locals spinning the prayer wheels in front of the temple. It is believed they disseminate spiritual blessings and well-being when turned clockwise while reciting the ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ mantra.

By this point, you’ll probably be feeling unconditional love for the Tibetan culture and cuisine, and an incredibly full stomach – You’re not the only one. A peaceful, inclusive harmony surrounds Majnu Ka Tilla, and the heartwarming environment makes you want to go back as soon as possible.

We definitely will.

If you enjoyed reading this article, we suggest you also read:

Anubhav Sapra’s Delhi Food Walks Bring Communities Together Through Food

What’s In Nizam’s Kolkata Kathi Roll? Finding History In A Flatbread

‘The Breakfast Affair’ Is A Lavish South Asian Dream Spread


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