Landscaped vistas, huge igneous rocks formed into mountains set against the bright blue skies and lakes, almost mimicking the powder puff clouds dotting the place. The valley is an ideal spot for an unforgettable vacation, but what we miss exploring much is-the food. While every mountain-clad region in India serves Maggi, Ladakhis have more to offer!
The search for authentic Mok Mok(as they call it here), soupy Thukpa and Skyu and Butter tea made me meet Ms Sonam Tenzing, the owner of a café called ‘The Pangong Lake’. While the café was in the middle of the Kharu market, 120 km away from Pangong Lake, the only way I could relate it to its name was by a flimsy picture of the lake hung on one of its walls.
She recommended the vegetable Thukpa, which I affirmed without any hysteria. And as I waited and intriguingly asked her the reason for naming the café ‘The Pangong Lake’. She smirked and replied “Down 1 se Leh mein Pangong dekhne aate hain,ye raste se hi Pangong jaate hain, khaane ke liye Kharu market mein rukhte hain,toh yaha sabse jyada Jaana pehchana Naam Kiska lagta hain?”. She ended it with a laugh and continued that she chose a name with a lot of foresight to evoke positive association and sound more relatable to the travellers and bikers that halt in the otherwise uncharted market. While Tenzing’s café was buzzing with travellers from ‘down’, I don’t know if it was the name, the food or Tenzing’s hospitality. She served one of the best Thukpa, Mok Mok and Skyu(a form of pasta) usually made of wheat dough) and was proudly aware of it. She knew ten others were serving the same dishes across the market, so she decided to keep the prices competitive. She believed her product differentiation was her grandmother’s recipe and her hospitality. I still don’t know if it was the name, the food or Tenzing’s hospitality. While I can vouch for her Thukpa, I cannot deny the other two reasons also did their wonders. And while conversing over the Thukpa, she received a call from one of her vendors. I then learnt that she was a supplier of homemade noodles and Skyu. For this side business that Tenzing was running with her son, she had engaged four local women to help her. She paid them a fixed salary and said the salary barely meant anything for the women, and it was the freedom to step out of their houses and socialize. For Tenzing, this was the business she was looking forward to; she saw this future and joked that she would call it ‘Sonam and son’. And while she was unaware of her entrepreneurial skills, I asked her if anybody called her an entrepreneur. She replied, “Entrepreneur word ka toh spelling bhi Nahi aata par acha Laga aapse sunnke”. We laughed, and as I paid the bill, she gave me a gratis pack of noodles, which I hesitantly accepted.