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Drinking Kashmir

Every winter, a part of Kashmir becomes a part of the Capitalliterally

A family having ‘noon chai’ with ‘lavasa’. Photo: Mayank Austen Soofi
A family having ‘noon chai’ with ‘lavasa’. Photo: Mayank Austen Soofi

By mid-November, as soon as the cold starts to make its presence felt in Delhi, a pink-looking brew starts being served at the pavement tea stalls around Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid. This is the noon chai of Kashmir, a salty tea that acquires its colour due to the addition of bicarbonate of soda. Also on offer is lavasa, the bread traditionally paired with this tea.

This is said to be the daily breakfast in Kashmir and every winter this combination of noon chai and lavasa makes a guest appearance in certain neighbourhoods of Old Delhi because a large number of Kashmiris move to Delhi to escape the harsh winter back home.

A Kashmiri tea-stall owner. Photo: Mayank Austen Soofi

Many of these migrants take up months-long residence in the cheap hotels that face the grand Mughal-era mosque. Indeed, if you take a walk down Jama Masjid early in the morning, you will encounter a number of men and women, many of them dressed in pherans, huddled together, sipping noon chai. Some of the stalls keep the tea hot in giant, elaborately sculpted samovars—a sight as impressive as any small monument in the area.

The noon chai, however, is an acquired taste for those of us who like our tea brown and sugary. Poet Ameer Dehlavi of Old Delhi’s Haji Hotel, who married a Kashmiri, says, “I like everything about Kashmir but the noon chai has not won my heart yet."

The noon chai stalls open early in the morning, as soon as the loudspeakers from Jama Masjid start calling out to the faithful to wake for the fajr prayer. The stalls close by 9am, about the same time as the rest of the bazaar shops begin to open.

Now, as the Delhi winter enters its final stage, the noon chai too is set to go back to Kashmir.

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