City Food – Noon Chai, Tea Stalls Around Jama Masjid
The sip of Kashmir.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A freezing morning certainly, but no snow, no mountain, and no valley. Yet, you see people of Kashmir snugly absorbed in their traditional breakfast of noon chai and lavassa roti.
Every winter, budget hotels around the Mughal-era Jama Masjid in Old Delhi are occupied by those lucky Kashmiris who could afford to escape from the harsh cold of their land. They arrive in the city with their families and stay here until the end of the season. These winter refugees are most visible during the morning hours when the tea stalls near the historical mosque start filling up with them. At this time of the year, these shacks not only serve the usual milky-brown Delhi tea, but also the pink Noon chai, the tea of Kashmir.
Noon chai is not everybody’s cup of tea. It defies the Delhi tradition by not being sugary–at all. It is actually salty—noon means ‘salt’ in Kashmiri. A luxurious version of Noon chai is flavored with cardamom, almonds and pistachio, but you must not expect such richness from roadside stalls.
Even so, the point of having Noon chai in Old Delhi’s winter mornings is not in its acquired taste, but in experiencing the illusion of being transported to a land that most of us identify with beauty, violence and tragedy. You sit amid people talking in Kashmiri. Some of them are dressed in pheran. There are also elderly men and women, and children. It’s like lounging on a street corner in Anantnag or Pahalgam. All of this becomes possible because of a humble glass of Noon chai. So magical.
Somewhere in Srinagar