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Things no one told you about Irani chai

What draws you in to an old Irani café? Its chai, of course. On Parsi New Year today, we get Cafe Irani Chaii owner Dr Mansoor Showghi Yezdi to tell you how to get it right

Jayeeta Mazumder 17 August 2016, 8:39 PM
Iranians rarely use milk in their cuppa tea

Iranians rarely use milk in their cuppa tea Image: Thinkstock

The familiar aroma of bun maska hits you as you step in, the chequered tablecloth looks inviting, and the ‘Do not’ board is up on the wall momentarily taking away your attention. You know you’re at an Irani joint if you’ve just ticked off all of the aforementioned observations. And if you haven't visited one before, today is the day. It's the Parsi New Year, after all.

We are at the newest, most-talked-about Irani restaurant in the city, Café Irani Chaii — one that opened in Mumbai for the first time in 50 years. It’s a welcome move considering most of the prestigious, heritage Irani joints are downing their shutters by dozens every year. Out of almost 400 such eateries in Mumbai, only about 30 remain open today. And Dr Mansoor Showghi Yezdi, a former documentary filmmaker, wanted to do his bit to preserve the Parsi culture in his own small way, at this 370-sq-ft space in Mahim. And the tea we are served naturally becomes the first topic of discussion.

Interestingly, the Iranians, he points out, don’t put milk in their tea. “But when our forefathers migrated to India, they wanted to experiment. They wanted to be the extra sugar in the milk in Indian tea. And that’s how the Irani chai came about,” Dr Yezdi reminisces while sipping his own cup.

And how do you spot an authentic Irani café? “Look for Bentwood chairs, manufactured in Poland; mirror-coated walls — that substitute for CCTV cameras; chequered floor tiles and tablecloths,” explains Dr Yezdi.

So, what goes into the making of the inimitable Irani chai? Dr Yezdi lets you in on the secret:

1. Use good-quality, long, loose tea leaves — buy it from established tea sellers. We use second flush leaves in order to retain the bold, robust flavour.

2. Don’t use condensed milk. Although most Irani cafes in Hyderabad use condensed milk for the tea they serve.

3. Condense the milk yourself — boil and keep stirring till it thickens and leaves a sweet aroma wafting about. For instance, 40 litres of milk should boil down to 30 litres.

4. If you find one, use a Samavar. It’s a unique urn brought to Iran from Russia in the 18th century. Today, there are electric versions available.

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