Anyone living in Pakistan will agree that on days when you need a little pick me up, nothing beats a delicious paratha, coupled with a hot cup of chai.
And no, coffee is not a substitute: deep down, we all know it can never replace tea.
A modern take on the average chai place, the new kid on the block that's now creating buzz is the aptly named Chai Wala. Think Sattar Buksh meets Cafe Clifton! The brainchild of Aized Suharwardy and Hamza Usman, this new dhaba located at Bukhari commercial's Lane #1 in Karachi has been attracting tea lovers with its comfortable outdoor setup and truck-art inspired theme.
'Artisanal' chai anyone?
Chai Wala follows in the footsteps of slightly more upscale dhabas inundating the city like Chai Master and Gullu Butt. The former offers interesting items like 'Disco Chai' and 'Nutella Paratha' and suddenly, chai is cool again!
|From L-R: Aized Suharwardy and Hamza Usman|
This trend of taking so-called 'low-brow' food items (read: chai, paratha, tikka, paan or bun kebab) and treating them to a glossy makeover isn't new to Karachi — in fact it follows from a global inclination to appropriate the mundane and transform it into high culture.
To achieve this, all you have to do is slap the term 'artisanal' on anything — from granola to ice cream to now, chai. Of course, Chai Wala doesn't advertise as an entity serving 'artisanal tea,' but really that's what it is: an attempt to 'elevate' the lowly cup of tea to grandiose and yes, expensive heights.
Intrigued by this dhaba that only uses mineral water, discourages littering and offers free wifi, I had to give this place a try. The Nutella Paratha with strawberries paired with a cup of their specialty Cadbury chai deserves a special mention and is something that will keep me going back for more.
Even though trying out savoury parathas wasn't on my list, I couldn't resist them once I got there and ended up ordering a Chicken Cheese Paratha, a decision I didn't regret. The cheese was perfectly melted and the paratha, just the right texture. Since I was too full by the end of it, the Pizza Paratha from their menu still remains on my wish list.
Born of a pressing need for chilled-out dhabas:
Aized, a budding entrepreneur, affirms that a disgruntled customer makes a great restaurant owner: "For years, we frequented chai dhabas in the city and we always found something missing in our experiences, be it the quality and cleanliness of the food/chai or the outside ambiance. So we decided to recreate a dhaba experience using only quality ingredients, ensuring the best hygiene practices and creating a nice outdoor ambiance for our patrons — especially families. It's basically a fusion between a western outdoor cafe and a local chai dhaba!"
|From L-R: Nutella Paratha with strawberries and Qeema Parathas being made fresh.|
"We're trying to cater to Defence and Clifton residents," reveals Aized. Well, that's no surprise. With chai ranging from Rs 50 - Rs. 150, you can't exactly lump Chai Wala with every other dhaba out there.
"Our chai's are unique because our recipes are completely original. For example, we serve authentic Kashmiri Chai, prepared exactly in the same manner as you would find in a Kashmiri household. I don't believe many, or in fact, any chai dhabas can say the same. In addition, we have a variety of paratha's on our menu which are very popular especially the Nutella, aaloo & qeema paratha's."
|Each ingredient for a traditional Kashmiri chai is given separately.|
For the open-minded, a higher price point shouldn't be too disruptive:
Discussing Chai Wala with a friend of mine, I was a little surprised when she termed it an elitist venture.
"They're trying to sell chai and parathas at high prices to the upper class and cashing in on food staples, items which should be affordable for the common man too!" she said.
I couldn't disagree more. There was an unmet need in the city which Chai Wala now fulfills. This might be 'disruptive' but it ultimately stems from good business sense.
How many other dhabas can you really think of where families can go and hang out without feeling unsafe? Even though I was the only girl sitting outdoors and not in the car when I visited, I didn't feel uncomfortable or fearful that I would be mugged at any point, which is how I usually feel outside other joints. Necessity is the mother of invention and we were in dire need of a family-friendly dhaba. The caveat that it is more expensive than other dhabas can be overlooked as the ambiance and quality of ingredients makes up for it.
Another thing worth noting is that not only did the staff at Chai Wala seem highly competent and well-trained, they were also extremely courteous. Taking workers and introducing them to better work ethic and a more streamlined business model is beneficial to society as a whole.
Although they've been in business for a little over three months now, the reception has been overwhelming and the joint has also started catering weddings and home functions because of the number of people inquiring about the availability of such services. Having developed a cult following in such a short span, Chai Wala is a welcome addition to Karachi's roadside vendors and one to watch out for!