Food that warms the soul

Would you say no to this meal?

It was one of the best meals on my Spiti Valley trip. Which also included beauties such as these waffles

#DishOfTheDay. #lunch #dessert #waffles #SpitiValleyEscape2015

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And this breakfast. (Can you tell I love waffles?)

The perfect breakfast on a #lazysunday. #waffles #ham #sunnysideup #hashbrowns #SpitiValleyEscape2015

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There’s a lot of food in Spiti Valley: I only wish I had taken photos of the momos and thukpa and every simple yet delicious meal we had, but I was too busy stuffing my face at that point. I was asked to write on unusual food experiences there, but where to start? Here’s my take.

Up in the Spiti Valley region of the Himalayas, there are barely any roads, so the idea of street food is non-existent. That’s not to say that the quintessential thukpa is not available; it is ever-present in the centre of every far-flung town, offering a welcome respite from the bone-numbing chill. Well, at least it seems that cold to someone who has lived all her life in sultry Chennai.

After a 5 am departure from Kaza and an exhausting — but completely worth it — trek to Chandra Taal, one is understandably famished. Lunch is scheduled a couple of hours later at a dhaba. Now, one would expect a dhaba on the highway, serving Punjabi food with truckers digging into piping hot fare. But in the Himalayas, they do things a little differently.

Chandra Dhaba is perched on the side of the road, with nothing but beautiful views all around. One has to stoop to enter the brick room, which is warmed by the stove. The roof is made of waterproof sheets, which give the room a hazy blue Instagram-esque filter. A low seat is placed along the wall, and there’s a constant clatter of plastic cutlery and bowls being cleared.

Steam rises from a boiling pot on the stove, and a familiar aroma accompanies it. Who knew that instant noodles could smell so good? Perhaps it’s the setting, or simply hunger pangs. Either way, tucking into a bowl of noodles with crisp, fresh vegetables floating in the broth is not an experience that is soon forgotten.

These experiences are everywhere in Spiti. The kind folks atop Kunzum La (15,059 ft), the mountain pass between Lahaul and Spiti, serve up a breakfast of jam sandwiches, boiled eggs, cold parathas and piping hot aloo gravy. At Kaza town, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the variety of momos. Stores scattered widely on the hillside offer tea, coffee, potato chips and biscuits.

While fuel stations are few and far between, the people who run these stalls ensure that the travellers don’t experience a lack of refreshment.

The communal feeling at these places is palpable. Everyone talks to each other, fleeting friendships are made and goodbyes are said with much enthusiasm. Leh and Manali might be the hotspots of tourism in the region, but the almost raw hospitality of Spiti Valley is to be cherished while it lasts.

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