Besides Desis and those with a refined palate, most of us don’t know what true Indian chai is. What we know as chai is a soup of herbs and spices sold at coffee shops anywhere in the city – often with an excess of cinnamon, sugar, or just plain weird stuff.
That’s why when my neighbors Aman and Karina invited us over for dinner last week, I asked them to show me how to make authentic Indian chai. They chuckled at my request. Why would I want to learn how to make such a mundane thing? But they must have been honored, considering that when we arrived at their place – bottle of red wine in hand – the ingredients were already laid out on their kitchen counter.
While Aman boiled the water, Karina opened the wine. A few minutes later we were drinking chai, eating crackers, cornflake mix, and then drinking red wine. Lots of red wine.
Aman and Karina met in high school back in India. They dated in college and then Aman came to the U.S. to further his studies. He took a job at an internet company. But it wasn’t long before he was back in India to be with Karina. Lovely, I know. But if you met Karina, you’d understand: She’s beautiful. And kind. And great company.
Aman’s job was bringing him back to Massachusetts, so Karina came along. They got married here, in India, and then moved to Allston. They have built a great network of Indian friends here – many young married couples like themselves.
Do they like it here, I asked? They love it. They love how people can be who they want to be here. Freedom of expression at its best.
As dinner went on, we discussed India’s caste system, the commingling of religions, arranged marriage, gender inequality. The more wine we drank, the more philosophical and political the conversation became. We also discussed issues of grave import, such as Indian head movements and Russell Peters. At the mere mention of Peters, everyone at the table said, in and Indian accent, “Take it and go!” It’s a thing. I’m not kidding. Watch Russell Peters do it here.
While both confess no to be skillful cooks, Karina and Aman make chai every morning for breakfast – and that’s how they have brought a small part of India to Allston.
Pudina (mint) Chai Ingredients (makes two servings)
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons of loose black tea
- ½ cup milk
- Fresh mint leaves (two sprigs)
- Sugar to taste
- Heat up water in a small saucepan.
- Add tea and chopped mint leaves to the water and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat and simmer for two minutes.
- Add milk and sugar and simmer for another minute.
- Strain into cup.
Chai is meant to taste predominantly of your favorite spice, with black tea and milk as the base. You can substitute the mint in this recipe for fresh ground ginger, crushed green cardamom pods, chai masala powder, cinnamon, cloves, and so on.
You can get all the ingredients at Cheema’s on Cambridge Street. If you want to be as authentic as possible, don’t forget to serve with biscuits and cornflakes.