City Food – Lallan’s Chai, Galli Choori Wallan, Old Delhi
The best chai shack.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The only displeasing thing about Delhi’s pavement chai stalls is that the chai happens to be too milky, too sugary — to some of us at least. That problem could be easily rectified by asking the man at the stall to make the chai really tagda, strong. The resultant brew is (almost) always perfect.
The camera-toting flâneurs, of course, don’t hang out at these dusty street chai stalls for the humble chai (they can always go for flies-free High Tea at big hotels). The real pull of these places is to taste the flavour of the unique hyperlocal worlds that these tea stalls are parts of and which they also help create.
One of the most atmospheric chai stalls in the capital is in Old Delhi, though this shack is only three years old.
Lallan’s stall has no name — it is simply run by Mr Lallan (he uses only one name). It consists of an arched niche that is part of an old dilapidated building in Galli Choori Wallan, a street that was once home to bangle sellers.
Mr Lallan, a man in his late 20s, walks to this spot every morning at seven from his room in the vicinity, which he shares with half-a-dozen brick-layers.
Within minutes, he sets up his stove, a kettle, a steel tray, a box of sugar, a box of chai patti, stacks of white plastic glasses, a pan of milk, strainers, and a few tea snacks such as the flaky fen, made in the neighbourhood bakeries. Mr Lallan carries all of this paraphernalia in a beautiful rust-coloured metal trunk on which the customers are later permitted to sit.
The good time to visit the place is at 8 in the morning — the stall remains open until 7pm.
Once you are here, you might realize that the most intense way to experience the tea stall is by gazing at it from across the street. The beautifully carved arch and its derelict wall — ruined enough to show lakhori bricks beneath the peeling outer surface — stand out as souvenirs to the vanishing beauty of Old Delhi architecture.
This other-worldly enigma is pleasantly balanced by Mr Lallan and his customers, some of whom have their noses buried within the pages of Hindi dailies.
Most morning regulars happen to be rickshaw pullers or daily wage labourers — the latter are seen dragging loads all day long on wooden trolleys across the Walled City’s byzantine lanes.
Mr Lallan himself started his life in Delhi a few years ago as one such daily wage labourer. His parents, wife and four children live in his village in Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, where they have a one-acre farm.
Now, the real thing. It turns out that the chai doesn’t need the trappings of the chai stall’s architectural backdrop. Flavoured with ginger, it is strong and reinvigorating enough to turn you into a Lallan loyalist.
A cozy universe
1. (Mr Lallan)