Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chowing down with chai and companions.

Ask most Indians and they would agree that there is something about garam garam chai (hot tea) that makes chilly winter mornings’ warmer and sultry hot summer evenings tolerable. Weekends when there is no rush are calmer when you have a cup in hand and the breathtaking sunrise for a view. Weekdays when one is 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 you keep your sanity. Chai simply makes your life better.

Or for me it was always what came with the chai; the conversation, the people, the place and the snacks; yes especially the teatime snacks.

As a kid I would love cupping my hands around my mum’s hot mug of tea and dipping Parle-G or a rusk that would inadvertently break and fall into her cup of tea and she would give me that look that simply said I told you so. But never were we allowed to drink tea, “kids don’t drink tea”, she would say and we would eagerly wait for the day when we would make the transition from enjoying the tea-dipped soggy biscuits to drinking our first cup of that magical masala chai. Till then my sister and I made peace with having tea parties of our own with our toy kitchen.

Cream biscuits were my favorite while my sister stuck to her Nice biscuits which I for some reason totally detested. You know those that come with little crystals of sugar. She preferred those more than “my” cream biscuits which came with fluorescent synthetic cream (Now when I think about it. Uggh!); I mean who in the world doesn’t like pulling apart the two biscuits, licking the cream in between and then dipping the jhoote biscuits as my mum would call it in her cup of tea!

Growing up I fell in love with coffee over tea (blasphemy I know for a north Indian!) but the taste of what was served with the tea never left me. Hot Pakoras straight out of the kadhai, samosas from the bagal wale 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 lose their crunch, a packet of Bikanerwala kaju namkeen opened hurriedly when sudden guests came along and the regular tea partners that kept changing depending on mum’s mood; glucose biscuits, rusks or a Marie.

Weekends would mean mum would make us a cake in her round oven and we would eat it the minute it came out of the oven while mum would have it sipping her adrak wali chai (ginger tea). Tea pairings have just started doing the rounds in the culinary world today but ask any Indian, there has always been a chai for every occasion and reason. Ginger, green cardamom, black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and sometimes even saffron, sometimes added individually and mostly in various permutations and combinations but all brought together depending on the mood, the need and ofcourse the accompanying snack.
But I digress. Coming back to life around that cup of chai.

Once I began college, some of the best memories that I have are from the tapri as my hostel mates from Mumbai would call it. In between classes, on the evenings when the mess would be shut or late nights when the innumerable projects kept us awake; we were there all the time. Laughing, talking, cribbing all over that little glass of chai  with a packet of biscuit or packaged dhokla bought from the very same tapri or when we really lucky some homemade mathri couriered by a loving parent.

Tea time was sacred for it was here we shared both our excitement and fears of an unknown future that awaited us after college; jobs that come with both financial independence and responsibility. Those that came with bosses we learnt to love and hate and came with the sacred chai time. The first organization that I worked for there the brand management office was part of the factory premises which meant there were fixed tea times. You couldn't just walk out of your cubicle and order tea. You had to wait for it to arrive. It was like a ceremony where tiny steel glasses came along with a mammoth steel coffee vending dispenser complete with a tap. We would queue up to fill our two drops of chai and dug out of our pockets mini packets of murruku that we had been handed over at lunch time on our way out from the factory mess. Over those crispy round spirals we felt sorry about how each of us had landed a heartless boss. Each Friday the murruku were replaced with cake that had multi-colour glaced cherries in it. Life was good. There was a certain comfort in following that routine much like the regular cup of chai brings with it.

And now if you can excuse me please, I have got to join my girlfriends on our monthly date who are all very happy that the kids are finally at school and we can all have our cup of tea over some adult conversation. Ahem, I’ll have a chai lattee please ! One day I promise to give you my heart dear tea till then we’ll settle with the snacks that you bring along. Pakoras, anyone?

Here are some of my favourite teatime snacks? What are yours? I’d love to hear.

My favourite teatime snacks*
Allu tikkis
Deep fried potato cakes, served with a spicy coriander and mint chutney.
Banana chips
Deep fried or dried slices of bananas enjoyed as chips
Sliced or ball of vegetables, fried in usually a gram flour batter. Best enjoyed with tamarind chutney.
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 grows up with.
Collective term for snacks like dhokla, kachori, khaman, khandvi, muthia, etc all enjoyed with tea.
Flattened ball stuffed with spiced lentils, potato, or beans and enjoyed with a variety of sweet and sour chutneys.
Flaky biscuits made from flour, water and cumin seeds
Depending on the state it is may be a combination of fried lentils, peanuts, chickpea flour noodles, flaked rice, fried onion, curry leaves, etc.
Crunchy twists made from rice and urad dal flour.
Pakoras/ Bondas
Vegetable/s or minced  meat, coated in batter (usually gram flour) and deep-fried.
Dry biscuit bread that has been baked twice.
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

Allu 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
  • Salt to taste

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
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 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.

For the Bhajjis:
  1. Mix all the ingredients except the potatoes into a thick batter. 
  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.
Images : Personal Album. All images belong to orangekitchens and are subject to copyright. 

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