I have to say that our one day in Madhogarh might have been my favorite part of my two week tour in India. For me, getting out of the major cities and seeing rural Indian life was by the far the most educational and most enduring aspects of the trip. During our walk through Madhogarh, we made a stop at the local watering hole, the chai wallah stall.
For most of us living in the U.S., the closest thing we get to traditional Masala Chai is a Starbucks Chai Latte. I’ve been a fan of this drink for years while acknowledging that it’s probably far from authentic. Yet here I was drinking the precursor to that tea knock-off in probably the smallest, most local place possible. Would Starbucks measure up; and more importantly, did I care?
It was up to this man to show me and Team Ozzie, how it’s done…literally.
One of Madhogarh’s Chai Wallahs (I’m assuming that there’s more than one, right?)
First of all a little vocabulary: “chai” is a generic word for tea in Hindi. It doesn’t refer to a specific type of preparation of tea. Masala chai is really what we were having, and what I would continue to crave in the mornings with breakfast while in India. I usually don’t drink caffeinated tea, but I couldn’t resist this, especially having it fresh everyday. It’s common to find chai stands all over India selling Masala chai. It is a hot mixture of very strong black tea (usually Assam tea, often of the mamri variety), whole milk, a spice blend (usually made up of ginger and cardamom, with the addition of cinnamon, peppercorn, and cloves but the mixture varies), and sugar (lots of it). Apparently, everyone has their own twist on making Masala chai, so I can’t really tell you a process, but there are lots of great recipes via Ye Olde Google. The basic method is boiling water, milk, tea, and spices, and then straining it.
When we rolled up to the chai stall, it was definitely buzzing. There were several men of various ages gathered about chatting. Needless to say, quite a few of them took an interest in me, and I was quite fascinated right back. I could totally tell that they were talking about me, but of course I understood nothing. I did make out the word “African” though.
For a variety of reasons, the chai spot is really like the local bar. It’s where people (Read: Men) go to shoot the breeze and meet up with friends. In my mind, the chai wallah isn’t just providing tea; he’s also creating community. As a tourist/traveler, I appreciated getting to the local hang out spot, even if I couldn’t really communicate and I was definitely out place. The village men smiled at us, and I think they appreciated that we happily drank our tea.
This man was kind enough to let me take a picture of him.
I couldn’t leave you all without showing how this chai wallah makes his tea. Perhaps it will inspire you to make some at home.
So cheers, everyone, and try some (Masala) chai in the near future, even if it is at Starbucks.
By the way, his version is better than Starbucks (big surprise). The milk adds creaminess, but it doesn’t overpower all of the other ingredients, which often happens with a poorly made Starbucks chai. Often you get a weak spice kick with Starbucks, but there was no doubt about what I was drinking here.
Do you like (Masala) chai tea? Do you enjoy checking out local watering holes, bars, and meeting spots when you travel?