Ask most Indians and they’d agree that there’s something about the garma garam chai that makes chilly winter mornings warmer and sultry summer evenings tolerable. On weekends, there is no rush, you can hold a cup in your hands and absorb the beauty of the sunrise. On weekdays, when you’re running around like a headless chicken the same cup of chai (or cha as my maternal grandmother would say) when multiplied by three or sometimes four helps keep your sanity intact. In short, a cup of chai simply makes one’s life better. As for me, I’ve always been more fascinated with what comes along with the chai than the chai itself. Think conversations, people, favourite chai spots and snacks; yes, especially the snacks.
Dunking biscuits, taking giant bites of samosas, gorging on a handful of namkeen… how do you like your tea? Pairing the humble chai with snacks is quite an art, say the teaholics. Let’s dress up the tea time with some of our favourite snacks.
As a child, I loved to cup my hands around my mum’s hot mug of tea and dip a Parle-G or rusk in it; this would inadvertently break into the cuppa and she’d give me that “I told you so” look. But we were never allowed to drink tea: “kids don’t do that” she’d say. We’d wait eagerly for the day of transition between soggy biscuits and our first cups of magical masala chai. Till then, my sister and I made do with tea parties of our own in a toy kitchen. At this point I need to point out that your editor (aka my sister) liked her soggy Nice biscuits, the ones with sugar crystals, more than the ones with fluorescent synthetic cream between them. I mean, who in the world doesn’t enjoy pulling apart the two halves, licking the cream and then dipping the ‘nibbled samples’ in mommy’s cup of tea? As I grew up, I fell for coffee rather than tea (blasphemy, I know for a north Indian), but the taste of what was served with the tea never left me, in fact it just piqued my interest more with every tea party. Hot pakoras straight out of the kadhai, samosas from the neighbourhood Sharma ji ki dukaan, steaming hot jalebis on a rainy afternoon, bhujjias for those still evenings (those that mom kept in her Tupperware dabba lest they lost their crunch), a packet of Bikanerwala kaju namkeen opened hurriedly when guests suddenly arrived and the regular tea partners that kept changing depending on mum’s mood; glucose biscuits, rusks or a Marie.
At weekends, mum would bake us a cake in her round oven and we’d eat it the moment it emerged, while she’d have it sipping her adrak wali chai. Tea pairings may have just started doing the rounds in the culinary world today but ask any Indian and they’d fill you up with sound bites of a tea snack for every occasion and reason. Ginger, green cardamom, black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and sometimes even saffron, occasionally added individually, mostly in various permutations, all brought together to blend with the mood of the day, the need of the hour and of course the flavour of the accompanying snack.
I’ll digress a little here and travel back to re-visit some of my favourite memories revolving around a cup of chai. Once I began college, some of the best experiences circled around the tapri, as my hostel mates from Mumbai would call the chai stall. In between classes, during evenings when the mess would be shut or late at night when innumerable projects kept us awake, we’d be there. Laughing, talking and cribbing over those little glasses of chai with packets of biscuits or packaged dhokla bought from the very same tapri or when we really got lucky some homemade mathri couriered by a loving parent. Tea time was sacred; it was here we shared both our excitement and fears of an unknown future that awaited us after college. Jobs brought financial independence, responsibility and, of course, bosses: they all strengthened our bond with chai time. My first job was with a company that housed its factory and office in the same premises, which meant fixed tea breaks. You couldn’t just walk out of your cubicle and order tea; you had to wait for it to arrive. With the little steel cups came the mammoth in-house tea-vending dispenser, complete with tap. We would queue up to fill our two drops of chai and to accompany that came out the packets of murruku, savoury crunchy twists made from rice and urad dal flour that were duly distributed along with our lunch plates. Over those crispy round spirals, we shared our corporate miseries. Each Friday, the murruku was replaced with cake with multi-colour glazed cherries. Life was good. There was a certain comfort in following the routine that the regular cup of chai brought with it.
I’m sure you have a memory that revolves around chai, one that pepped your daily routine. Even though I now have a home office, there’s one work practice I still follow: meeting up with my girlfriends for a monthly tea date. All of us send our kids to school and then meet over a cup of tea (coffee for me) and adult conversation. Every time, I make a promise to the tea leaves: one day I’ll give you my heart! But till then, I’ll indulge in your companions. One plate of steaming bread pakora with tomato ketchup, please!
A traditional Indian snack, Potato Bhajjis with Hari Chutney (Serves 4-6)
For the Hari Chutney
• 125 grams coriander, stems removed and chopped
• 3-4 green chillis, chopped
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 2 gooseberries, chopped
• Juice of a lemon
• ½ tsp rock salt (optional)
• 1 tsp cumin powder
For the Potato Bhajjis
• 500 grams potatoes, sliced and immersed in ice cold water
• 150 grams chickpea flour
• ½ cup coriander, chopped
• 1 tsp cornflour
• ½ tsp chilli powder
• ½ tsp ajwain
• 1 tsp turmeric powder
• 150 ml water
• Sunflower Oil to deep fry
• Chaat masala to sprinkle
For the Hari Chutney:
1. Simply blend together all the ingredients for the chutney. Season with salt.
For the Bhajjis:
1. Mix all the ingredients except the potatoes into a thick batter. Season with salt.
2. Drain the water from the sliced potatoes and immediately put it in the batter. See that all the pieces are coated evenly.
3. In the meantime heat the oil in a wok. Test if the oil is hot enough by dropping a drop or two of the batter. If it sizzles it is ready to fry.
4. Take four-five batter coated potato slices and carefully drop it into the hot oil. When it becomes golden yellow take it out on a paper towel to absorb the extra oil.
5. Do the same with all the other slices and sprinkle chaat masala on it if you like.
6. Serve with the Hari chutney and enjoy.
Few Other Chai Buddies
|Allu tikkis||Deep fried potato cakes, served with a spicy coriander and mintchutney.|
|Banana chips||Deep fried or dried slices of bananas enjoyed as chips|
|Bhajjis||Sliced or ball of vegetables, fried in usually a gram flour batter. Best enjoyed with tamarind chutney.|
|Bhujjias||Crispy yellow deep fried snack prepared by using gram flour and spices like red chilli, black pepper, cardamom, cloves and salt.|
|Biscuits or biscoot as it is also known as||Needs no explanation. The likes of Parle-G, Nice, Marie, Bourbon, etc. all Indian kids grow up with these.|
|Farsaan||Collective term for snacks like dhokla, kachori, khaman, khandvi, muthia, etc.|
|Kachori||Flattened ballstuffed with spiced lentils, potato, or beans and enjoyed with a variety of sweet and sour chutneys.|
|Mathri||Flaky biscuits made from flour, water and cumin seeds|
|Mixture||Depending on the state it is may be a combination of fried lentils, peanuts, chickpea flour noodles, flaked rice, fried onion, curry leaves, etc.|
|Murukku||Crunchy twists made from rice and urad dal flour.|
|Pakoras/ Bondas||Vegetable/s or mincedmeat, coated inbatter (usually gram flour) and deep-fried.|
|Rusks||Dry biscuit bread that has been baked twice.|
|Samosas||Triangular savoury pastries fried and containing spiced vegetables (usually boiled potatoes and peas) or minced meat.|
|Shakarpare/ Namakpare||Diamond or square shaped, sugar coated, crisp sweets made with all-purpose flour. Savoury ones are called namakpare|
Keep blowing the Trumpet! This & many more stories await in the pages!