The popularity of Korean music and movies has also provided major context for the cuisine, said Dipesh Das, a local guide with the West Bengal tourism department, who grew up eating Korean food in Daragaon, a village in the Darjeeling district near Kalimpong. More and more people are rediscovering the intricacies of Korean cuisine, trying them at home or seeking them out in their neighborhood. “During the pandemic, when people turned to streaming, the widespread availability of Korean pop culture kicked off the now-global Korean wave,” Das says, “and beyond entertainment, a diversity of exotic dishes thrive in their story.”
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A handful of up-and-coming chefs in Kalimpong combine their obsession with food and film, globally minded cooks raised on an international culinary scene thanks to the virtual reality of Netflix and Instagram. Beyond the habits, they give street food like tteokbokki and corn dogs get a seasonal and sophisticated treatment. Many of them sell at Haat Bazaar, a farmer’s market held every Wednesday and Saturday near Rishi Road, which has added more than a dozen new vendors over the past three years.
Chef Lalit Tamang, founder and chef of The Noodle House, is a seasoned ‘artist’ who worked in kitchens such as Courtyard by Marriott Gurgaon and Swissotel Kolkata before launching his own pan-Asian kitchen in Kalimpong in July 2020. In some ways, The Noodle House was a step ahead of the Koreanification approach the city’s restaurants began adopting after the pandemic. With intricate delights like jajangmyeon – a single serving of Korean black bean noodles topped with black bean paste – that require unique mastery and approach, the kaleidoscope of flavors and textures here is sure to win you over.
In another handcrafted and cleverly designed stall, Kran – a makeshift bamboo shack banged up with palm fronds that cover an 8-person seating area – is a quality-focused neighborhood gem in Dambar Chowk. Vin Tan, a 34-year-old native who grew up between Kalimpong and Darjeeling, makes a traditional take on kimbap or Korean rice rolls, a single sheet of seaweed filled with rice, cucumber, bulgogi and a mixture of vegetables or meat.
Seeing a significant increase in demand for a multi-sensory experience without the costly bill associated with a designer interior, this summer Tan finally quit his day job as a wedding planner to fulfill the growing number of orders. Every evening, he says, diners from all over West Bengal stop by to ask if there is a franchise in the works.
“It’s remarkable to find people from all over the state to experience this culinary phenomenon and the multicultural vibe that Kalimpong has become famous for,” he said. “Kalimpong has become the epicenter of an overflowing cross-cultural movement that can make Bengal its first Koreatown. It’s hard not to notice.