James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Good Lord, Is There Anywhere the Red Velvet Cake Trend Has Not Penetrated?

Good Lord, Is There Anywhere the Red Velvet Cake Trend Has Not Penetrated?

Cupcakes in Yuksom

After six days of trekking in Kanchenjunga National Park, we returned to Yuksom with leaden feet and plenty of food cravings. A sleepy little village in India’s West Sikkim district, Yuksom is the base for the Dzongri Goecha La mountain pass. Come April and October, there are more trekkers milling about than locals. The road leading to the park is lined with tiny stalls selling jackets, socks, shoes, poles, and other climbing gear.

There are only a handful of places to eat, Guptaji’s among them. Over the next two days, we went there to eat plate after plate of fried chicken, sample Tibetan bread, and drink copious amounts of black tea. From Guptaji’s, we watched children go to school in Jeeps and trekkers make their way uphill. By noon, the village would be quiet.

By the third day, we had eaten our fill of chicken and now craved desserts: brownies and cupcakes, with chocolate glaze and walnuts. But our polite inquiries took us nowhere. People told us there were no bakeries here.

We ended up walking east, to a part of the village we had not yet covered. We were about to turn back when we saw the pamphlet. A simple black-and-white printout, with only five items under the header “Mama’s Little Bakery.” Brownies were one of the items. We took the necessary turns and steps to what turned out to be a private home.

There were no obvious signs of a bakery, nor the aroma of baking. The girl who came out informed us that there were no brownies, but they did have a few red velvet cupcakes. Would those do?

They did wonderfully. Soft, with just the right amount of sweetness, moisture, and buttercream on top. The girl, Pema, had started the bakery just a few months back, with a little oven in the kitchen. In the almost one-sided conversation that followed, Pema told us about her days in Kolkata, her plans for the bakery, secret hideouts in Yuksom, and many other subjects.

She also brought out plates of momos made with squash and butter tea. Butter tea, or po cha, is a Himalayan staple made with yak butter, tea leaves, water, and salt. It’s certainly an acquired taste, but it went well with the sweetness of the red velvet.

As the sun began to set, Pema brought out the raksi, homemade rice wine. This clear distilled wine is potent, with a strong aroma. Thanks to the wine, we lingered, cementing a new friendship.

The next morning, we dropped in to say goodbye. We left with bottles of raksi, but not before Pema treated us to homemade chicken sandwiches and brownies.

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