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10 Jul 2018

Soccer spot for Tricolour

The Tricolour hoisted at the momo joint in Darjeeling
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Jul 10, 2018, Darjeeling: In the battle of flags that is playing out across the Darjeeling hills, a quaint century-old restaurant whose specialty lies in dishing out beef momos stands tall with the Tricolour.

The eating joint at Rai Building in Darjeeling is so famous among the local people that the owner has not even bothered to put up a signage on the restaurant.

Yet, "Nini Aji ko restaurant" (Nini Aji's restaurant) is a household name whose directions few in Darjeeling would fail to provide. And it is this restaurant, which is not among the swankiest joints in town, that has once again stood out in "The World Cup Town".

It is probably the only place in Darjeeling that has hoisted the Tricolour along with flags to show their allegiance to the Brazilian football team. "It was not my idea, it came from our staff," explained Tashi Gyalpo, the restaurateur.

Four employees help Gyalpo's family run the place. Kumar Rai, an employee, said: "So what if our country is not participating in the World Cup, we are watching the matches in India. We felt that when flags of other teams are fluttering, we should also have displayed our country's flag."

"We hope to see our country play someday," he added.

The three-storied Rai building is largely a residential area near Darjeeling Motor Stand and other residents have put up flags of Brazil, Argentina and even those of two Asian countries, Japan and South Korea that qualified for this edition of the World Cup in Russia.

The Gyalpo family has a sporting background.

"My brother Jigme Bhutia played for the local clubs like Tarun Khel Khud and Shiv Shakti," said Gyalpo, who himself is a basketball player and presently coaches the basketball team of St Paul's School.

Gyalpo's team Mustang is among the most successful basketball teams from Darjeeling that have lifted trophies even in Sikkim. It is probably because of Jigme's football connection that former Indian coach Syed Nayeemuddin visited Nini Aji ko restaurant, visited the place for its beef momos and thukpas (which is prepared by the Gyalpo family) when he was in Darjeeling some years back with the East Bengal team.

Even politicians make a beeline to the place. P.S. Golay, former minister in Sikkim, whose party, Sikkim Kantikari Morcha, threw a serious challenge to India's longest serving chief minister of India, Pawan Chamling, in the last assembly elections, is also a frequenter.

Golay developed the taste from his college days in Darjeeling.

"Even though using cooking gas is a cheaper option, we have stuck to firewood and we have been able to retain our taste," said Gyalpo.

The joint on an average sells about 1000 dumplings a day. "We get our momos and thukpas ready by 9.30 am and we open till our food lasts," said Gyalpo.

You would be lucky if you can order momos at this place after 3pm on any given day. 

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