On any given day, especially as the spring sun warms the snow peaks of the Dhaladhar range that surround it, the main market of McLeod Ganj is bustling with travelers spilling out of the tiny cafes, street markets and Tibetan kitchens that are stacked along the narrow arterial roads of this hill town. One such is Potala road, which winds down from the main square, plummeting into a steep curve towards Jogibara, which houses a monastery. If you’re a curious traveler who likes to soak in the sights, sounds and smells with as much enthusiasm as McLeod Ganj deserves, you’ll spot this blink-and-you-miss-it bakery—Tibet Quality Bakery—a single counter with 10 or 15 odd slices of dessert triangles, muffins, pies and handmade cookies, and one spirited baker. And if, piqued by the quaintness, you stop in your track, there is enough going on here to prompt you to stop a while and explore.
Tibet Special Bar
The McLeod Ganj terrain is uneven, and so the bakery counter is hoisted at a slight elevation, and you have to climb up a couple of wrought iron stairs to be able to place your order with Yeshi, who is behind the counter. Each morning, he makes all the food himself, with help from his uncle. He’s been at it since 1999, a fact we find difficult to believe given his boyish smile and ardour, and the wholehearted way in which he serves every single cookie or muffin to a guest. Behind the glass counter, you don’t find picture-perfect pastries or toppings of delightful whipped cream and cherries—instead there are hand-patted Lhasa cookies that are rough around the edges, Tibet Special (granola) bars studded with coconut chunks in a hazelnut chocolate base, Tibetan cookies which have dry fruits and sugar stuffed in a roughly rolled ball of dough, yak cheese muffins and cakes topped with a layer of glazed chocolate.
Yak Cheese Slice
The items with Yak cheese in them try to retain an essential ingredient and local flavours, most other sweet treats on sale here have been created from recipes that Yeshi collected over the last couple of decades, from visitors from different parts of the world. “The Tibetan Special Bar is a granola bar, made from a recipe that a foreign visitor shared with me. Hence it has coconut and hazelnut,” he says. The Lhasa cookies are made from whole grain flour, with a layer of jam and butter sandwiched between the hand rolled biscuit. Then there are some regular items like apple, banana and chocolate muffins and chocolate and caramel bars. Come summer, and the counter will stack various kinds of pies, says Yeshi. His buyers are tourists passing by, drawn to the eats by the cute name cards that Yeshi’s school-going brother drew for each item.
Our favourite pick, apart from the Lhasa cookies which I liked for its rustic appeal and humble homemade flavour, was the Banana walnut pastry. A robust slice of pound cake studded with a generous helping of walnuts, and layered with handmade coffee buttercream, hits the right notes.
Jostling to find a place to stand as vehicles line up in a perpetual traffic jam, Yeshi’s Tibetan Quality Bakery makes no effort to lure clients. But it is the curious eye that it catches, and never lets down.
Image courtesy: Priyamvada Kowshik
To feed your hunger for more
Want more? Click on the tags below for more videos and stories