The sky is grey with fluffy cotton-like clouds. Somewhere, far away, thunder rumbles and a familiar earthy smell fills the air. Think of the monsoon and the first thing that your mind (and tummy) yearns for is that steaming cup of chai and crispy, golden brown triangles of samosas with good old piping hot, aloo masala-filling.
Oh wait! Spicy, deep fried, vegetable pakodas with fresh green mint chutney are not a bad idea either. Or maybe thin, gooey, sugar-soaked jalebis with cream? Heaven!
Something about wind and rain and grey skies makes us hungry. Not just hungry, but self-indulgent. Deep-fried, sickly-sweet guilt just doesn’t get a look in. So why stop at just plain old chai and samosas? Check out these snacks and different kinds of tea, and go all the way.
It is impossible to miss the keema pav stalls on the busy streets of Mumbai. The spicy flavours of minced mutton with onions, garlic and ginger are complemented with warm, plain, buttered pav. "I would call this the perfect starter to a full-fledged, lavish non-vegetarian meal," says Saif Rasul Khan, a Mumbai-based law student.
(Photo: Savour Mumbai by Vikas Khanna)
I was on my bike riding back home after a late shift, when it started raining. I was a good half-an-hour away from home, and there it was - a food stall. Watching the pouring rain, sipping the hot, steaming chai, and munching hot vada pav with spicy red chutney - that's bliss!" recalls Samrat Sarkar, an IT professional based in Mysore. The Indian version of the burger, vada pav, is a staple on the busy streets of Mumbai. Tucked between small, warm loaves of bread are spicy round potato vadas with a sprinkle of red chilli powder. Best eaten with a spicy dry-chilli chutney.
We've grown up eating sliced tomato, onion, cucumber sandwiches, layered with chutney or cheese. But this one comes with a twist. Can you imagine our good old Maggi between slices of bread toasted golden brown with lots of butter? Nothing like it! "One day, my roommate and I ran out of our 'food-bank' except for a packet of Maggi, and two slices of bread. Scarcity is the mother of invention, and that's when we thought of having a Maggi sandwich. We cooked the Maggi, placed it between the slices, and CHOMP CHOMP! A delicious meal!" says Rikhiya Banerjee, a student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
We might have tried everything at the fanciest of restaurants, had exotic cuisines at plush hotels, but nothing can beat that comforting bite into good old bun maska, oozing with butter, while sipping chai. "It's probably the easiest and best meal I can make and have at short notice in the monsoon. Midnight hunger pangs call for bun maska and chai at any food stall," says Parul Kandoi, 24, a student at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University.But know what? You can actually make the bun maska experience better. Squeeze a layer of bhujiya into the bun to taste its crispiness. Raghav Verma, co-founder of Chaayos, the Delhi-based chai café chain, says, "It goes best with Irani paani-kum chai and is a huge hit at Chaayos."
(Photo: Savour Mumbai by Vikas Khanna)
Do you retch at the sight of milk? Maybe you haven't tried the aromatic, saffron-coloured, full-of-flavour masala milk. Loaded with dry fruits and exotic spices, this drink is not only good in taste but can be drunk hot or cold. "Not being much of a beverages person, one thing about the monsoon I look forward to is enjoying that steaming mug of masala milk with turmeric that completes my rain experience," says Tanvee Deorah, 23, a Delhi-based student preparing for the civil services.
Chopped golden potatoes, slightly crisp on the outside and soft and silky on the inside, peppered with spices and occasionally topped with some mint chutney. Tawa aloo is one of the most delectable delicacies to enjoy as you watch the pouring rain.
Get high on chai
Tibetan yak butter pu-erh - Ladakh
Kashika, a 25-year-old banker describes the Tibetan Yak Butter tea the best. "It's like drinking melted butter in hot milk. The butter complements the rich creamy flavour of the milk, which is perfect for that nip in the air during the monsoon. And since you don't add sugar to it, you don't have to feel guilty about the calories." But don't drink too much of it, warns Dr Lovneet Batra, clinical nutritionist, Fortis la Femme. "Frequent consumption of salt and butter in your beverage may lead to high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease," she says.
Kahwa - Kashmir
The Kashmiri kahwa is a spiced form of green tea without milk. "Spices such as saffron, cardamom, and cloves are added to lend the kahwa its aroma and flavour," says Nitin Warikoo, a tea connoisseur and head of sales and marketing at Cha Bar and the Oxford Bookstore in New Delhi. Traditionally served in cups, along with nuts and honey, apart from its warming effect, the Kashmiri kahwa is also known to improve concentration, relieve headaches and fight stress, says Dr Batra. Swati Agarwal, a postgraduate student at DU says, "The strong flavour and the not-so-sweet taste give you a perfect wake-up kick."
Kangra tea - Himachal Pradesh
A distinctive golden-coloured brew with a sweet undertone, originating from the Kangra valley in Himachal, "Kangra tea is a green tea mixed with a lot of herbs and spices," says Raghav Verma of tea chain Chaayos. Apart from its aroma, Kangra chai is high in antioxidants, beneficial in lowering blood cholesterol and has anti-carcinogenic (cancer fighting) effect, says Dr Lovneet Batra.
Paani kum chai - Mumbai
The Irani paani-kum chai is prepared by boiling tea leaves in water and milk separately, later pouring them together. "It is a rather milky chai with very little water. Best enjoyed with bun maska," says Raghav Verma of Chaayos. However, says Dr Batra, it's best to drink your tea with more water than milk. "The caseins, proteins found in milk, form complexes with the tea catechins and may lower its health benefits," she says.
Gur wali chai - Punjab
Hailing from the pinds of Punjab, this is prepared with jaggery instead of sugar, making it a healthier alternative to tea with sugar. It is the perfect option to stave off the chill of the monsoon. "Not only is gur a source of iron, it aids digestion and acts as a cleansing agent," says Dr Batra. "However, do not overdo it. Have 10-12 gms of gur a day for optimum benefits."
Suleimani chai - Andhra, Kerala
A form of black tea served with a dash of lemon, the Suleimani chai is popular not only in the land of the Nizams (Hyderabad) but also in the Malabar region of Kerala. "Lemon, being a source of Vitamin C, adds to the antioxidant properties of the tea. Also, the Suleimani chai aids in digestion," says Dr Batra.
Darjeeling tea & Assam tea
In India, the most sophisticated tea is synonymous with these two varieties hailing from the North-East. Both are considered rich in aroma and flavour and of the highest quality in the world, but subtle differences set them apart. For the best effect, Nitin Warikoo advises, do not add milk to Darjeeling tea. But you can add some milk to Assam tea. "These teas are rich in antioxidants, strengthen your immune system, fight dental plaque, lower cholesterol and maintain heart health," says Dr Batra. However, no matter what kind of tea you drink, never have more than 2-3 cups a day. "More than that may lead to health problems," she says.
(Photo: Cha Bar)
From HT Brunch, July 13
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