City Food – Amir Khusro’s Chai, Near Amir Khusro’s Tomb
His state-by-state chai.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He has to be Delhi’s most exceptional chai man. Not because he is wearing a stunningly eye-catching shirt this afternoon. Not because he shares his name with one of Delhi’s greatest poets. But because Amir Khusro is a chai barista, and a most unusual one.
Manning an ordinary seeming pavement tea place, he cries out yet again to passers-by: “Aao, chai le lo, Ahmedabadi, Rajasthani, Gujarati, Hyderabadi, Bhopal wali, UP wali… Bombay wali chai!”
Street chai with so many variations? No way! Amir Khusro politely suggests this doubting Thomas to try out all the tea types, claiming that even an amateur will detect the differences with just two-three chuski. Speaking in a modest tone, he points out his chai is made of strictly four things—doodh, patti, pani, cheeni. Each region’s chai, he explains, differs only in the proportions of these basic constituents. Otherwise his tea is totally frill-free. “I never use adrak or elaichi.”
Amir Khusro attributes his accomplishments in chai to his hereditary legacy. His father too managed a tea stall in the city before he returned to the Bihar village to resume farming.
Since our capital region is vastly diverse in its own right, does he offer neighbourhod specific chai? Say, Mayapuri wali, Mahipalpur wali, Pari Chowk wali, or even Gurgaon wali chai?
Amir khusro raises his chin, and replies, speaking slowly, clearly. “I make state-by-state chai. I don’t make Gurgaon wali chai, but do you know Gurgaon falls in Haryana, not Dilli? I can give you Haryana wali chai.” Even so, the man is partial to certain cities, awarding them the dignity of having their own distinct chai (Bombay wali chai!).
A leaf drifts down from the adjacent tree, resting on the counter. Amir Khusro tosses it away on the sidewalk, and turns his gaze to the chai boiling violently in the chipped pan. Turning to the wall behind, he gestures towards an elderly man’s garlanded portrait. “Panditji founded this stall, he died some years ago.” On being complemented about his shirt, he quietly adjusts the collar. “My brother got it for me from Nepal, he works in clothing line.”
Amir Khusro’s stall lies very close to the grave of… well, poet Amir Khusro!
Chai from around the states