This cosy Islamabad dhaba is a tea-lover's paradise

This cosy Islamabad dhaba is a tea-lover's paradise

The dhaba brings out the big guns with dry fruit/fruit-infused chai all of which come in a rainbow of colours
05 Nov, 2018

Winter is coming, and when the cold finally sets in, Islamabad has a cosy little tea house inspired by the ones in Quetta to comfort you with hot, delicious tea and Pakistan’s traditional soul food, parathas.

Tucked away in a corner of F-10 Markaz, Quetta Tea n Teas is a small shop, much of which is taken up by its kitchen, which gives a whole new meaning to the concept of a live kitchen.

A few seating spaces have been set up in the front of the shop, which is more a dhaba set in a plaza, and about five or six tables have been placed inside.

Those expecting an upscale imitation of a dhaba will be disappointed. This is just an unapologetically run-of-the mill dhaba; no gimmicks, no elaborate menu and no truck art interior.

The menu is just what the name of the eatery is, just tea over tea over tea, coupled of course with a myriad of parathas.

But the tea served here also gives you something to chew on – literally.

Half of the two-page bill of fare is taken by a selection of teas.

There’s the Pakistani staple doodh pati, which also comes with a twist in the shape of a golden malai, which will be very reminiscent for those who have grown up in their villages, or visited their villages often, and have experienced tea made of pure, desi milk, and having to remove the malai from their tea before pouring some of it in a saucer, and then repeating the process.

And then, the little dhaba brings out the big guns, with dry fruit infused chai and fruit infused chai all of which come in a rainbow of colours.

There is the badami tea, and the chilgozah tea, both of which leave a taste of the dry fruit at the back of your mouth, the akhrot tea going down with a bitter, wholesome trail.

The doodh honey tea is sweet and silky while the gur tea is rough and saccharine.

There are the more playful fruit teas, which are nothing like the artisan, overpriced teas doing the rounds in the various cafes of Islamabad.

We are talking about hard-laboured-for flavours here.

The sweet bitterness of pomegranate perseveres through the milk in the anar tea, which is a defiant red, and you can almost taste the juicy crunch of a Granny Smith apple in the apple tea.

The teas are served in small, glass teacups and laden with spoonfuls of crushed dried fruits so you have something to chew on with every sip.

If you do not ration your sips with the dry fruit, you will have a small mound of it left at the bottom of the cup when you’re done.

The teas are poured from large samavars or cooked on a roaring fire in a traditional kettle, depending on what you order.

The tea house serves savoury and sweet parathas with the teas. They are filled with fish, chicken or shami kebab which crumble in your hands as your tear a bit of the paratha off.

Other than the usual sweet flavours, the eatery offers coconut, kishmish and other dry fruit filled parathas.

All the orders are filled by a single chef, whose work is mesmerising to watch as he stands in the middle of the room to cook your order.

He separates balls of smooth, kneaded dough, and pours oil over them. Then he picks up each of the balls to even out the oil and pushes the glistening, golden portions of dough to the side, making more room for himself on the stainless-steel shelf to flatten them as the orders come.

He mounds a generous amount of filling on the flattened dough, covers it with another flattened sheet of dough and presses the sides before kneading the sandwiched dough flat and tosses it onto the flat pan to shallow fry with the other parathas. On the same tawa, he manages to make omelettes, fry eggs and five parathas at a time, for all of them to be fried to a crisp golden brown.

The dhaba is perfect for cold weather, but do not expect much privacy. There are far too many waiters for the small establishment, all of whom are very concerned about the service diners are getting, to the point that they also get in the way of a decent conversation.

Originally published in Dawn, November 5th, 2018