If vada pao is a very Mumbai element, so is cutting chai. An ideal foil to a wet day, a taste of which is available at The Claridges here these days

Chai and pakoras and pouring rains. I can already hear some people saying a zesty yes! This linkage has been more or less a sub-culture in many parts of India. Though there are some exceptions to the rule — folks like me whose eyes never twinkle at the idea of clutching a hot cuppa on a clammy day. Pakoras — vegetarian or otherwise, I can have platefuls any time of the day or night, even with a glass of red. But chai on a damp day? Not when black coffee is an option.

But like it or not, tea is such a ubiquity in everyone’s life. Almost all and sundry can mention some aunt (or even an uncle) or may be their mothers or fathers or grandmothers whose tea is a part of family lore. ‘Nothing to beat so and so mausi’s chai’ is not odd to our ears.

Then there are certain types of tea that are linked to certain places. No, I am not referring to Darjeeling tea or Assam tea. My finger is pointed towards the method of making tea which makes the brew stand out, and become a part of a certain milieu. Like cutting chai in the hustling streets of Mumbai city. If vada pao, Bollywood and the sea are Mumbai elements, so Mumbaiya is also the cutting chai.

But what is cutting chai? The question particularly hit me on seeing an invitation the other day from The Claridges hotel, New Delhi, which is having a monsoon special promotion of Mumbai’s famous cutting chai. When the hotel’s Executive Sous Chef, an ever smiling Rajiv Sinha, tells me why it is called so, I can’t help grinning at the obviousness of it that slipped my mind. Like Irani chai is so named because it is strong (karak) chai sold by Mumbai Iranis in their quaint cafes, cutting chai is ‘cutting’ because a glassful of chai is cut into two halves to serve two people, as it helps the customer to have a few quick sips of tea in a city where no one has much time in hand to savour a full glass by the street side. Says a lot about the city!

Bringing street culture to a fine dining setting is never easy but The Claridges seems to have tried more than its best to bring to you the roadside speciality in a five star surrounding. “We have been doing this cutting chai promotion during the monsoons for a few years now. It has always got very good response from people,” says the hotel’s F and B director Tarun Seth.

Chef Rajiv shares with me the recipe. You can note it down. “Take a heavy bottom sauce pan, boil water (320 ml), add crushed ginger (10 gms) and crushed green cardamoms (2-3 nos). Let the concoction simmer for about 30 seconds. Wait to see the bubbling water turn pale. Add milk (180 ml) and let the milk boil.”

While the concoction is simmering, “add sugar (40 gms) and tea leaves (35-40 gms) and let the tea boil. Simmer till you get the desired colour. Strain and enjoy.”

As part of the promotion, cutting chai is served to customers at the hotel’s all-day dining area Pick Wicks, and also its garden restaurant, in the classic short glass tumblers that you associate with roadside tea vendors. They come to your table in that typical iron stand the vendors use to ferry to customers more than two glasses of tea at the same time. Along comes the aluminium kettle too.

And yes, to complete the Mumbai street setting on a showery day, it serves you with a platter which has crunchy bhajias (fritters that come in a typical paper cone), a bowl of piquant chana jor garam, vada paos stuffed with a green chilli as well as a whole roasted bhutta (corn on the cob) accompanied by mint chutney and a yummy masala butter made in the hotel kitchen.

At Pick Wicks, when Chef Rajiv offers me a glass of cutting chai, it has just ceased raining. The manicured lawns, the hedged shrubs, the trees, all of these that I can see through the glass window are varying shades of shining green, water dribbling from them. I take a long whiff of my chai, the aroma of cardamoms is arresting, in a way jabbing me to take a nip at it. I do. Well, after sometime I see myself going for a refill. And now, let me admit, I think this experience has made me a chai kind. At least during the rains.

(The cutting chai promotion at The Claridges, New Delhi, is on till August 15. Timings: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Price: Rs. 695 per person before taxes.)

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