City Food – Upender Tea Stall, Shyam Bhawan
In silence and shade.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
On the tall slab: a stove, a (gigantic) kettle, a few jars filled with sugar, chai patti and other tea things. And there is a low table too, topped with a less gigantic kettle and a few thermos flasks.
It could be any tea stall, right?
Make that half-right. Upender Tea Stall is not any tea stall.
Snuggled in the heart of a cave-like corridor, it has an extra blackened kettle picturesquely placed on a case of neighbourhood water pumps. The facing wall is clamped with dozens of electric meters, each with a small screen blinking red and green, each surrounded by oodles of electric cables.
But the best part of the place is that here, the delicious milky chai is not the only thing to be cherished. The place serves equally satisfying coffee, and is one of the very few tea stalls in the city with coffee on the menu—Old Delhi’s winter season butter coffee doesn’t count, sorry! (One must pause here for a moment to mourn the demise of a tea stall in Gurugram, near the town’s railway station, that used to serve excellent coffee in earthen kulhar. Its elderly owner hasn’t been sighted since the pandemic began, two years ago.)
The Upender tea stall, in Old Delhi’s Shyam Bhawan complex, near Golcha Cinema, was founded sixty years ago by Lala Naubat Ram. He passed in 1992 and the stall was taken over by his “nawasa” (grandson) Pramod Kumar Kamra who, because he already had his own business to manage, handed it to Upender Kumar Paswan a few years later, in 1996. In addition to his name, the youthful gentleman also gave the establishment the gentleness of his temperament.
This afternoon the place is crisscrossed in shade and silence. The daylight outside the corridor seems far away, like a place on a postcard photo — maybe because the tea stall stands removed from the chaos of the lane, into which this corridor terminates. Now two women enter with a thermos. They want ten cups of chai (“jaldi, bhayya, jaldi!”) for a party at home. Upender asks if they will need paper glasses to serve the drink. The women demand to know if that would include extra charges. Upender smiles, and shakes his head. The women walk away with the chai and the free glasses, without uttering a thank you. The stall opens daily 9.30am to 8.30pm.
Chai plus coffee