For five decades, Majnu Ka Tila (MT) is where Delhiites go to experience the Capital’s Little Lhasa. A refugee camp for Tibetans who fled to India, escaping the Chinese colonisation in 1959, MT is a dream factory for the city’s Tibetophiles.
It has all the Tibetan traps: pork momos, yak butter, Thangka hangings, robed lamas, Dalai Lama posters and wrinkled momolas in striped aprons. But the basement Coffee House, with its yellow walls, impressionistic posters and pop music, is barely Tibetan, save a Tibetan calendar on the counter, and a Tibetan-English dictionary on the shelf (stacked with George Orwell and Salman Rushdie).
The café was started in 2008 by a woman named Tsering Dickey. Its menu has no momos; the only nod to Tibet being the presence of butter tea. Prices aren’t high. There’s no coffee beyond R 65 and no tea beyond R 35; both are as civilised as any beverage in the city’s big coffee chains. The bakery products are better. Try the marble cake, R 20. Buttery and crumbly, it doesn’t have the excellence of Oberoi Hotel’s pâtisserie, but it brings the Proust out of you. The peculiarly homemade taste is just like that of the simple cakes your mummy baked from magazine recipes.
The wicker chairs make up most of the 30 covers, though there are sofas, too. Cushions are a little worn out but that’s charming. So are the café’s two waitresses, often dressed in tees and checkered Katpants. They glowing with natural warmth, not the rehearsed smiles seen behind the counters of coffee chains.
A magnet for MT’s cool young people, conversations are rarely loud here. Sun tanned Tibetans chat in their own language, while the white lamas from the West tap on their laptops. You may spend an entire evening staring at any one of these firangis, thinking... is he from Denver or Dublin? Is he heading to Dharamshala or Sarnath? If too curious, feel free to strike a conversation. A lot happens over a coffee.
Where: House no. 39, Majnu Ka Tila
Time: 8 am-10 pm (all days)
Nearest Metro Stop Kashmere Gate
And if you still want momos One of MP’s oldest establishments, the Dolma House’s momos are worth living for. The veg steamed momos (R 35) take their own sweet time to come, since the lady says that the dumplings are prepared once the order is taken. Also try Tibetan sausage (R 55). We swear by their strawberry lassi (R 20).
The eatery is usually crowded with jeans-wearing Tibetans who make slurping noise while swallowing noodles from their bowls. The best tables are in the partition on the right side of the entrance. There, sitting by the glass wall, you get to watch the street life outside. The waiter presents the menu along with a notebook. The guests are expected to jot down what they want on a piece of paper. It avoids confusion that could result out of mispronouncing the tongue-twisting Tibetan dishes.
Where: House no. 1, block no. 10
Time: 8.30 am-10 pm