City Food – Kulhar Chai, Juhi’s Tea
Tea while lounging.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Poor Paris. That city has many sidewalk cafés, with awnings sheltering the patrons from rain and sunshine. But not one serving chai in earthen kulhar.
Delhi, be proud. Here’s a similar sidewalk destination serving exactly that. Juhi’s Tea at the Community Center in New Friends Colony has to be that rare (and unpretentious) site in the capital that has the character of a Europe-style café, without it trying to be so. Tables are laid out on the pave, and a green awning keeps away the smoggy sky. Also, if kulhar chai isn’t your scene, there’s a range of other refreshing drinks (try gur ki chai!).
This afternoon, a breeze is blowing through the long corridor at the end of which the café is located. Two men are sitting across a table, both staring silently at each other’s twirly moustache. Curiously, a scent of garlic (and not ginger of ginger chai) lingers in the tea house. This is because most of the corridor is taken over by an outlet famous for its shawarma.
The view from the tables is not picturesque. An office building stands like a dull monolith on one side. But that is more than compensated by a steady flow of people toing-froing by the tea house, like fish in a river—shoppers, salesmen, beggars, palm readers, balloon sellers, labourers, and so on. Each person is looking happy or sad in their own peculiar way. A restless young man sits on a side-table and starts to talk loudly on phone about Dubai and visa. His muscles are threatening to burst out of his showy T-shirt and fall around on the floor. Soon afterwards, two students of nearby Jamia Millia Islamia University arrive. They are natives of Ladakh.
There’s also the pavement shoe repairer Mukti Lal Das, stationed close to the tea house’s last table. He has been here for more than 25 years. Seriously, a short story writer can get lots of story idea by spending a few hours in the place.
And now law student Anugya Jha walks to the the chai counter and gets herself cold coffee. That’s what she prefers at Juhi’s Tea. But she gamely poses with the kulhar chai on request for a portrait shoot (see photo).
PS: Oh yes, the delicious chai has an intense flavour of wet earth, made by friendly Mr Sharif.
Chai, à la café