RAWALPINDI: Steaming hot pink coloured tea commonly called Kashmiri Chai, garnished with crushed nuts adds to the romance of winter nights.
Some prefer salty Kashmiri Chai but most prefer to have it sweetened. Ethnic Kashmiri families in Rawalpindi who migrated in large numbers from Amritsar in the Indian Punjab especially prefer its salted variety.
The pink coloured tea is actually made from green tea leaves. The process of making this tea, although simple, is time-consuming. Water is boiled in a pan and green tea leaves are added to it, along with baking soda.
When the tea has been boiled thoroughly, cardamom, almonds, pistachio, star anise (badian khatai) and milk are added.
As the milk is added, the tea begins to take on its beautiful pink colour.
This creamy tea is slightly nutty and very rich in flavour. It is commonly served in winter weddings and large vats of Kashmiri Chai are consumed by guests with dessert. In the garrison city, on winter nights, many residents head to special stalls and shops for a steaming cup of rich creamy Kashmiri Chai.
Popular stalls are located in Chota Bazaar, Raja Bazaar, Purana Qila, Bhabara Bazaar, Moti Bazaar, Murree Road and other areas. Many places only sell Kashmiri Chai in the winter, replacing it with milk shakes, lassi and ice-cream in the summer.
These outlets begin selling Kashmiri Chai at breakfast time and sell this winter favourite late into the night.
“Salted Kashmiri tea is a traditional beverage from Srinagar and adjoining areas and it is called in Kashmir as Noon Chai but the sweet Kashmiri tea comes from Jammu,” said Malik Aslam Pervez, the owner of Dilbar Hotel, the only Kashmiri food outlet in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
“For breakfast, Kashimiri families drink Noon Chai with Kashmiri Kulcha, Paratha or Bakar Khani. Most people in Indian-held Kashmir drink
Noon Chai three times a day with their meals, especially in the winter. It’s a simple tea, made with more milk than water,” he said.
“We only make Noon Chai at our hotel. Other stalls and restaurants serve sweet Kashmiri Chai,” he added.
Farrukh Butt, a resident of Purana Qila, said his family migrated from Srinagar after the partition of India. He said his family still drinks salted Kashmiri Chai on the winter mornings and lassi in the summer.
“We never drink black tea or chai,” he said.
Hamza Ali, a customer at Saddar Tea Stall, said sweetened Kashmiri Chai is his favourite. He said coffee and black tea have a bad after taste but the sweet aroma of cardamom in Kashmiri Chai lasts for hours.
He said many people like having Kashmiri Chai with a plate of Samosas while shopping in Saddar.
“I come to have Kashmiri Chai, at least once a week,” he said, blowing into a steaming cup of pink tea.
Tauseef Ahmed, a visitor in Raja Bazaar, said: “Kashmiri Chai is healthier and has less caffeine than black tea and coffee. Milk and nuts make it nutritious,” he said.
Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2015