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Food Safari – Chai tales from South and North!

Written by Poorna & Brinda

Chai. The National drink of India. As many places as many Chais! The diversity of chai in India is amazing. As travellers, Chai is a ubiquitous part of our journey. Though Coffee lovers, it is difficult to get a good filter coffee when you travel in India. But, you will not face the same problem with Chai!

We present the tale of two Chais. One from the southern state of Tamil Nadu and the other from the northern State of Kashmir. Both different. Both delicious!

We love “Chaya” as the “Boiler tea” in Tamil Nadu is known. It is a the most authentic Chai you can get with all its flavour intact. This is possibly the best tea prepared with milk. Every time, we drive through this southern state we make sure that we search and stop over for a cup of chaya. Or may be two!

Last January, we were driving from Meghamalai which is a small hill station in Tamil Nadu. As we entered the plains after a back-breaking drive of 40 KMs on non-existent roads in our Scorpio, we were on the look out for a “Chaya Kadai” or “Tea shop” selling “Boiler tea”. Seeing a good crowd around a chai shop on the outskirts of Theni, we stopped.

Boiler tea, Food Safari

Murugan @ his tea shop with Copper boiler

Murugan, the owner of the shop was busy making cups of chai for his customers most of them being regulars.  With quick movements, he adds sugar and milk to the “decoction” and makes the cup of “Chaya” for his visitor. The tea is brewed with hot water to get the real flavours and not boiled. You could easily feel the difference in the body when you have the boiler tea. Unlike the “Dum” method of preparation commonly found in north India, wherein all ingredients are thrown together in a pot. Murugan’s preparation allows him to make each cup to order. Murugan’s setup includes a large copper boiler filed with hot water, a pot of steaming milk and a smaller tumbler of brewed black tea both perched atop rusted tin stoves. With each order, Mohan added milk and sugar into a glass, then strained the tea decoction through a piece of cloth before pouring the contents back and forth to achieve the perfect frothy cup of chai! We were speaking with Murugan on why we are seeing less and less of “Boiler tea” stalls with many of them converting to “Dum” method. He lamented the increasing costs as one of the reason. In dum method, you make 20 cups of tea at one time where as in Boiler method, each tea is prepared separately which means extra tea powder. Also since boiler has to be kept hot, stove continue to burn adding fuel costs. But he was happy what he was doing. Speaking to his customers, we could make out that they love this chai and come back regularly!

Let us now move northwards.

Last April, we were in Srinagar to check out the beautiful Tulip Gardens. Mushtaq, our man friday and driver in Srinagar was there to receive us in the airport. He knew what we wanted on landing in Srinagar! Last time around when we expressed our desire to drink “Noon Chai” as Kashmiri chai is known, Mushtaq had taken us to a tea shop opposite Tourism reception centre. We loved drinking glasses of “Pink Salty Chai” with buttered toasts! A year had passed and Srinagar was devastated by floods six months before.  We asked Mushtaq as to what happened to the shop and shop owner. The area where the tea shop was located was down in the waters. Shop was gone – it was a temporary shed – but the owner is fine and has reestablished it again.

Kashmiri Chai, Food Safari

Qasim in his tea Shop. Notice the butter and toasts!

We drove straight to the tea shop. It was same old shop. Qasim was busy making “Noon chai” and giving it along with Buttered toasts! The Kashmiri chai is different from “Boiler tea”. It is prepared more like a “Dum tea” with different ingredients. Milky and pink in colour it has a light aroma of Saffron and is salty. This is different from “Kahwa”, the traditional spicy green tea of Kashmir. Since Kashmir is a cold region, salt in tea possibly help keep the body warm. Mushtaq said that Kashmiri Pandits make another type of Chai locally known as “Sheer Chai” which is similar to Masala Chai.

We had two cups of Noon chai with buttered toasts. Arriving in the afternoon and deciding not to eat on flight was a right decision!

This is what makes travelling in India such a wonderful experience. The diversity in culture, sights and cuisine is amazing. We always make sure to eat local food when we travel. Of which Chai, happens to be an automatic choice!

When you travel next to Tamil Nadu, find out and stop over for a glass of “Boiler tea”. When in Srinagar, you know where to head for “Noon chai”. It is the shop opposite the Tourism reception centre in Taxi Stand.

What is your “Chai tale”? Please do share with us.

If you want to prepare Noon Chai at home, you can click this link – Noon Chai @ Home

For other posts in “Food Safari” series, please click here Food Safari

Here is another experience of tasting “Sulemani Chai”

Photo Courtesy of featured Image – Rajesh Dangi 

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About the author

Poorna & Brinda

We are Brinda and Poorna from Bengaluru, the “Silicon city” or “Garden city” of India.

We travel together. We caught the travel bug 20 years back. On our honey moon, we traveled over the sea, in the train, by bus and in an aircraft! Our adventures probably started in that year. It continues, ever since.

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1 Comment

  • Loved reading your post on chairs Poorna and Brinda!! Being chai lovers, the best tea we ever had was during our Rajasthan trip, the masala chai is something we cannot resist anywhere. Also if you happen to visit Darjeeling do try the Tibetan tea, its very different 🙂

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