Indian Masala Chai
Its 5am and I have just touched down in Bangalore. Still dark, the air is surprisingly cool. I remark to the taxi driver that it’s not so hot. He wobbles his head and looks at me as if to say “just wait.” Minutes later we are speeding towards Mysore swerving in and around lorries, rickshaws, taxis and motorbikes. I squint in the darkness and see my first holy cow wandering down the street. The anxiety of the last two travel days dissolves into the relief that I have, at last, arrived in India. I smile big. Despite severe sleep deprivation I am energized to be at the beginning of this adventure. The Bollywood music blaring in the taxi fuels my energy and I smile to myself again.
As the sky lightens I see cows tied to trees, horses and chickens everywhere, and ox driven carts. Billboards advertise luxury hotels, jewelry, cement and silk. Some are splashed with hunky Indian actors advertising watches or new apartment buildings. Some feature the heads of several Indian men and I wonder if these are ads for eligible Indian bachelors (I find out later that they are not). The tiny chai shops are prolific and abound with people sipping chai from mini paper cups. Women in colorful saris and bare feet sweep their dirt porches with handleless brooms. Others sell pushpa-malas, or flower garlands, that are offered in worship to deities in homes and temples. The taxi driver stops to buy two of these and strings them over his rear view mirror. The colorful, embellished buildings all have a recently abandoned look about them and everything looks unfinished. There is trash and debris everywhere and everything looks filthy. From the safety of the air conditioned taxi I watch as a small part of this vast country blurs by and I am overwhelmed by the feeling that I must see more, I must see all of it. Having been in the country a matter of minutes I cannot yet put my finger on why I feel this way. But I can’t wait to find out. The red sun rises behind us, illuminating the road to Mysore and the adventure that lies ahead.
The first words spoken to me when I arrived in India were “Chai Madam?” as the taxi driver asked if I would like one before setting off from the airport. Chai is the lifeblood of India. And so that is where the stories of my recent travels will begin. I didn’t drink much of it because in India a request to substitute is always met with a blank stare and because the idea of substituting non-dairy milk for the holy milk of the cow is sacrilegious. The word chai simply means tea in India. So what we know as chai in the West is called masala chai in the East. The history and culture of masala chai can be found here.
2 1/2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
2 cardamom pods, freshly crushed OR a pinch of cardamom powder
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons black tea
1/2 cup milk or non-dairy milk (coconut, rice, almond)
Splash of half and half (optional)
Bring the water and spices to a boil. Add the black tea and boil for another minute. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the milk. Allow to simmer for another minute. Strain into a cup. If you are using non-dairy milk you can add a dash of half and half at the end for that extra bit of creaminess. This is optional and can be left out to keep it vegan.
Makes 2 cups.