A World of Food Blogs- updated August 2007
To Market , To Market- EOMEOTE #13

Garam garam Canteen aka Masala Chai

Canteen Chai

It is not coffee but Chai, that provides that kick start to the human heart  in the Indian subcontinent.

What is life without a cup of morning tea, the auld chhota hazri?

A bloke called Sir Reginald Bennett , once started the Imperial Poona Yacht Club at Oxford, while an undergraduate in 1930.Their speciality was racing backwards .(which is neither here nor there) However. I have no idea what it had to do with Poona nor the  relevance of the intriguing club motto -Chhota hazri, which Bennett, who was a renowned epicure ,translated as: "There is nothing worse than a continental breakfast." 

Actually Chhota Hazri means a little brekker of tea and biscuits, usually served in the bedroom,in a propah tea set dedicated to the purpose. This which was followed somewhat later by a pucca larger breakfast.

Well, even if we are no longer sahibs and memsahibs, nobody should have to face the world without that cup of chai.It straightens the shoulders, it gives a spring to a flagging step and it is what I miss most from those old days as a film maker.

The ' habit' began at the Film Institute Canteen where we gathered, as soon as it opened, to quaff tiny glasses of tea, brewed so strong, it lifted even the laziest of aspiring directors off the chairs and got them moving to class. This was the only canteen I have ever seen with a full length mirror installed. Fixed to a wall at the far end, it enabled our  neophyte actors and actresses to check their carriage, their muscles, their smiles, their clothes -, for all of 20 yards.Imagine, if you will , Mithun, (da),Shabana,(bi) and several others, walking that imaginary ramp, the aisle between two lines of painted blue tables, upto the mirror. What can I say. It enlivened our days.

Boiled to Blithereens

After tea dust was boiled with water, milk was added to it and reboiled till the mixture got the colour of dark camel and tasted distinctly of horse leather. I can't figure out why.There were rumours that tea dust was mixed with leather shavings for colour but I cannot verify this.

In any case it was not possible to do any shooting, or editing, or anything without copious cups of this chai. Boiled till every bit of tannin had been wrung out of the tea dust or CTC ( crush tear curl , a process after which the tea is named), it provided succour to any despairing creative soul, struck again and again, by the terrible certitude  that, on a film shooting, anything that could go wrong, would go wrong .

It is pretty much the same situation in any other office, site, factory, you name the place or the work and it won't carry on without that cuppa.

Now it is surprising to hear that the Tea Board of India is planning a campaign to promote tea among the younger generation whom they think are changing habits  and attitudes to 'the cup that cheers'.

Are they really that threatened by Barista and Cafe Coffee Day, the two large chains who have grown at an astonishing pace to become the haunt of choice for young people? I was under the impression the tables at these coffee shops were full, more because young people need a place to hang out, than for the taste of their coffee.

The Tea Board thinks differently. Apparently they plan to appoint an advertising agency to get the message that tea is contemporary, wholesome and healthy, across to a nationwide  audience of young consumers.It is said that they want tea to be declared a 'national drink' and they want the Union Commerce ministry to fund the exercise.

Somehow I cannot believe that coffee is more popular than tea, except in the South, where a true blue filter coffee can outtaste any Columbian , Sumatran or Blue Mountain bean. And  is definitely not to be turned down in favour of chai.

But...the rest of India.I mean, begin a chain of trendy Chai shops and see what happens.

Meanwhile you make your own Canteen Chai

For each cup, measure out one half milk and one half water into a pan. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar per cup. Bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and add 1 teaspoon of CTC tea per cup to the mixture. Boil on a slow fire  till the right colour is obtained. It should be a medium saturated brown and should not be at all transparent.Remove and strain into a glass or mug.

For adrak chai/ Ginger tea add  3 slices of fresh ginger, at the start .Strain out with tea leaves at the end.

For masala chai /Masala Tea add a pinch of  the following  ground mixed masala  to the water and milk in the beginning.

  • 1 tsp soont (dried ginger powder) If this is not available add a few slices of fresh ginger to the water.
  • 1 tsp  lavang /cloves
  • 1 tsp elaichi / cardomom
  • 1 " piece of cinnamon.

Grind all together in a coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle.Reduce the amount if the taste is too strong for you.

N.B This post was written at a time when our cornerstone of polite societea , the Irani bun maska and chai shop was still to be found at the end of every long and lonely road. Now those corners have crumbled , replaced by Reebok and Nike shops, Benetton and Wills Lifestyle.  Ha ! What Lifestyle is that, without the cup that cheers ?