City Food - Zina Tea Stall, Near Chitli Qabar

City Food – Zina Tea Stall, Near Chitli Qabar

City Food - Zina Tea Stall, Near Chitli Qabar

Staircase chai.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Staircase is obsolete. This is the experience of many of us living in places like Gurgaon and Noida. Days go by without spotting a sweeping flight of steps. The reason is easy to discover. Residential high-rises, office towers and shopping malls are equipped with lifts and escalators, demoting staircases to the status of emergency “fire exits.’

The Walled City is different. Here, the staircase, the uncomfortably steep ones at that, continue to be entwined with daily life (for instance, the stone staircases of the Jama Masjid become a social beach every evening). The old quarter’s most curious staircase is tucked close to Gosht wali Pahari, near Chitli Qabar Chowk. It hosts Zina Tea Stall, named after the Urdu for “staircase”.

This afternoon, the quiet-natured Muhammed Ameen is sitting on the bottommost step of a narrow zina; his street-facing stall is made of stove, pans, kettles, strainers, paper cups and a green pack of Glory Radha Eco Tea. The zina behind goes up to his home—mother, wife, children. Most of such Purani Dilli zinas in fact are private passageways. This zina is exceptional for being less private, but only from 10am to 1pm, the stall’s opening hours.

Preparing yet another round of chai, Ameen talks of his late father, Vasee, who founded the establishment 30 years ago. He pauses to throw sugar into the boiling chai: “Everyday I serve 150 glasses to 40 shops; one glass is for 8 rupees and two glasses are for 15 rupees.” Two years ago, he launched “party catering” on the side, specialising in “chicken biryani, chicken korma, rumali roti, raita and salad.” The customers of his new “line” live in places as far as Gurgaon and Ghaziabad, he says, “but the catering orders don’t come daily… this stall is more dependable:” He goes on to list his longtime patrons; as if singing a paean to the vicinity’s people and their occupation: “Salim phool wale, Faizan chemist wale, Azhar choor wale, Aslam supari wale, Mursarin salmani wale, Tabbi roti wale, Rashid phool wale, Asif mutton wale, Sarfaraz fish wale, Hadeeb readymade wale, Fazil kharat machine wale…”

Picking up a chai-stained tray packed with chai glasses, Ameen steps out to deliver the hour’s chai to all the aforementioned Zina wale.