My food tastes and memories are vastly different from my husband’s much to his disappointment. I usually have no interest in Misal or anything too spicy and garlic-y. So while I keep getting out for sharing his food memories, I can’t always share his enthusiasm. But recently we went to a chai ki tapri in Nasik. Tapri translates into a small tea stall. In a string of typically poor (with over the top branding) western food chains, it’s a welcome relief. Masala chai with a sweetened bun and salted butter is an absolute treat. I’m also totally in love with their half-kettle logo in yellow.
The menu is a one-pager simply laced with cutting chai (from Bombay where people would split a cup of tea), masala chai (with a very strong spicy ginger element) and normal chai. The chai is served in tapri style glasses. Psychologically, I felt cutting had far lesser tea for my liking – but this could just be the over sized tea cups which we got used to in the west. Although, to be fair I do like more tea in general.
The snack options included: a cheese garlic toast which I really disliked due to an overpowering taste of garlic. And a bun with butter – called bun maska- with a cherry on top. Now this with chai is pure chai glory. I don’t know what it’s about Indian machine made Amul butter, but there’s hardly anything that tastes like it. Maybe they didn’t even use Amul, but I associated my memories of everyday school time bread and butter to it seamlessly.
My mother has always worked and so we didn’t really have fancy meals for each breakfast. It was simple, functional and healthy. I never remember wanting to eat anything too savory, over-cooked or sweet in the morning. Breakfast for us meant breads and butter- sometimes just bland breads (from the Kashmiri bakery) with piping hot tea. Sunday was the only exception for parathas or rotis. And there’s nothing that I’ve enjoyed more. I often try other things for breakfast, but my soul food is bland chunks of soft bread.
Naturally, the chai ki tapri has been the only place that I wanted to repeat on volition. While set as a tapri, it’s got interesting decor with low wooden benches and high bar stools. The place was brimming with a gossiping young crowd every time we passed it by. Sure, we had Srikalp-like chai tapris through college too, but I think I am too grown up for chai with flies and a weird crowd. Besides, the chai ki tapri service staff was inherently polite. A lady boss was training the boys in the open kitchen set up. The waiting time didn’t seem like a lot, and while we were at it, we were allowed to write our comments on the chalkboard walls. Our writing ranged from cheesy arrowed hearts with initials to C.A.S.E. quotes. Everything seemed to belong on the walls comfortably.
Equipped only with an older iPhone, we asked the boys if photographs were in line. They sounded excited but seeked permission before I clicked each corner curiously. The thing about coming back to India however is that, you’re reminded of uneasy and deliberate stares from people without inhibition. Not being a foreigner yet, I just stared back till they looked away.
With so many Indians and stores in the US, somehow the tastes never really feel the same as here. I’ve realized I don’t crave plenty things – definitely not the hot, spicy kinds. But who can ever say no to a cup of chai and bread?
My ideal chai ki tapri would have my three favorite teas, I told my husband. Would it work? In Ann Arbor, yes, he confirmed. 2016 should have random goals, right? 🙂