Deliciously Deceptive

Food Issue 113 Mar, 2011
Text by Utsav Shakya / Photo: ECS Media

Tasting as exotic as it sounds, Mustang Coffee is the perfect drink for a cold winter’s day.

Icurse the day I chose to put on my Converse shoes to trek up, down and all over the hills of Ilam – Nepal’s beautiful tea district in the country’s east. After slipping and sliding on them all day, we finally got to the village of Kalo Pokhari, in the lap of the Sandakphu hills. Drenched by the daylong drizzle, my head was throbbing due to the slow ascent we had made over the day. The didi at Chhewang lodge had the perfect cure for me as we dried off before a crackling wood fire – Mustang Coffee.

At first glance, Mustang Coffee looks like, well, just coffee. Its swirling, dark brown colors however, hold a delicious, warm secret; Mustang Coffee is two parts coffee, one part honey and one part rum. These ingredients make the local concoction the perfect choice after a harsh day out on the hills.

After being handed a mug of the brew, I hesitated for a second, letting the tall steel mug warm my hands before finally taking a sip. The warmth traveled through my cold mouth, down my parched throat and into my hungry stomach. Instant gratification with instant coffee, I thought to myself, as I savored the strong sweetness. The honey did wonders for my cold throat while the coffee acted as a great base, allowing the flavors of the strong local rum and the pure honey, available in many Nepali villages, to bring out the best in each other.

However, for some patrons sheltering from the rain, one part rum was not enough gratification. Adding some more, they kicked off their tired shoes, crossed their legs and settled down comfortably, already humming a jolly tune to warm dampened moods. One of these men, more drunk than the others, passed on a piece of information he seemed to have guarded all his life – you could replace the rum with some brandy for a stronger kick, he said. I made a quick mental note.

I started to warm to my surroundings too as I sipped more of this amazing drink. People would pass in and out of the noisy restaurant-kitchen-lodge, as familiar with the place as they were their own kitchens - a greeting here, a joke there, a cup of chiya, a glass of rakshi, a quick drag on a cigarette, and they were out of there. There was a rustic allure to the place, its wide, wooden rafters, the open layout of the lodge and the knickknacks displayed proudly on one large wall.

It’s hard to say no to a drink when you’re in the company of good people and you know that good times will follow. After a scrumptious dinner, as we gathered around the fire again, swapping tales with new friends, more rounds of Mustang Coffee followed. This time, I did not hesitate.