If mumbai has got cutting chai and varapav, Kashmir has got their Kahwa and a good assortment of Kashmiri bread. So, once in Kashmir and being a glutton for kashmiri food, it came upon to me as a moral responsibility to explore the breads and variety of tea. Upon enquiry, Tanya Rigzin recommended this cafe heavily for Kahwa for breakfast. And, off we went for a late, leisurely breakfast there …
This cafe, a brainchild of Ms Roohi Nazki, in currently, one of the hotspot for tourists and local youths. The location is fantastic and bang on the banks of Jhelum river. Now, there is this famous restaurant in Srinagar called Mughal Durbar (serving wazwan for last 50+ years). Chai Jaai is located very near to it and the entrance is from the backside from the street level.
So far, in Kashmir, we’ve seen mostly traditional cafe architecture, but this cafe looks so so contemporary. With white walls and sunlight floating in through large windows, it’s definitely a pleasing interior. Apart from the seat-out area, there is this huge room, where storytelling is done on weekends, I was told.
Normally, wherever I go, I tend to act my true self- the idiot one and ask for the server’s suggestion. And it was the same here. So, when I asked the server, Mr Fahid, who is actually the operations head in the cafe, he offered me an assortment of bread (kulcha and sheermal) and two varieties of tea- Kahwa and nun-chai. It’s interesting to note that they don’t serve coffee here, and only varieties of tea.
Both the kahwa and nun-chai were served in metal samavars and Fahid was keen enough to make me pronounce the perfect accent (not that I excelled, but … ). Kahwa was great, technically. The color was perfectly saffron colored and almonds were properly sliced. And most importantly, there was a perfect balance of taste. But, surprise was nun-chai. It was pink colored and we were told that Sodium Bi Carbonate is used to get that perfect color. I’ve tasted the same thing in Ladakh and let me assure, it needs a slightly acquired taste.
However, it’s definitely suggested to taste both the varieties. Thankfully, during the serving, few interesting insights were shared with us. Like, roasted maze-flour (called Sout) is added to noon-chai before serving and the pink chai is actually made from black tea, sourced from Darjeeling. Now, that’s what makes Indian cuisine great ….. Kashmiri food, rather tea is using ingredient from Darjeeling … And finally, Kahwa is not supposed to be had with sugar, rather gulkand (which they make in-house) or honey, at the least.
With these, mostly, sweet sheermal and sweet kulcha goes traditionally with Kahwa and the salted varieties of either, with nun-chai. But, I was confirmed, at the end, it’s “aap ruchi khana”. The Kashmiri kulchas were small, thin and crispy and there was an abundant use of poppy seeds in kashmiri food- especially breads. Also, makki di roti was served and we were told, its normally supposed to be had with gulkand or honey, in kashmiri households.
But, being a bong, we were craving for some heavy food and we were served Harisa. Now, this was an interesting dish. Harisa is the standard winter breakfast item in kashmiri households. It’s more like haleem, where meat and cooked on slow fire overnight and served with a final tampering of refined oil. The dish is extremely heavy and warms the body. So, it’s generally served ONLY during winter. Now, with this, a specialty bread called Tsot is served, which is a flattened semi-hard maida bread.
My 7 year old son, being the complete idiot that he is, was jumping with pizza and they served him chicken Lavasa pizza. Lavasa bread here, was used as the base for this pan pizza and, with a heavy topping and ample amount of cheese, it was good.
the meal was satisfying and we learnt a lot about the kashmiri breads and chai. So, if you still want to lear it from the horse’s mouth, please check the below video.
The local bakery chapter …
But, Chai Jaai, didn’t make bakar khani and we couldn’t leave Kashmir without tasting some of it. So, out friendly neighborhood autowala came in handy. Upon request, he took me around, in the early morning, to one of the local bakeries or Kandoors as they say for some fresh local bread. We got the bakar khani alright, but, maybe sheermal was our choice. However …..
So, do I like a kashmiri breakfast ? Definitely yes. Do I like nun chai ? Yes ….. and will I be back to Kashmir ? Hell yeah …
Bon apetit !!!
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