The magic of Chaiiwala
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an indian person with things on their mind will require half a cup of masala chai to solve all their problems. So the success of Chaiiwala (based in Leicester, UK) was inevitable.
Ok i know that by now, the whole world knows about Chaiiwala and this post is beyond late. It almost feels like there is nothing left to say. Except there is. There is so much to say.
Nothing quite captures people’s imaginations like a sentimental back story and this story is a compelling one. It goes like this..Some 90 years ago in the markets of Delhi, a family set up a small stall selling tea for a rupee in the hopes of a brighter future. This simple yet delicious tea was a secret family recipe and became a huge success story for them!
Masala chai is a staple in every indian/asian household and every family has their own way of making it. Mine differs from even my mum’s and has been adapted to my husband’s very precise requirements.
I may have mentioned this more then once but i have to say it again, i just love a tea/coffee shop. It’s like my thing. Additionally i LOVE India so when i first spotted Chaiiwala on my walk to drop my son off to nursery, i almost squealed with excitement. It hadn’t yet opened but it already looked good. It screamed India with it’s poster of a Chaiiwala’s bike in the window. The brand was already apparent. For years, I had been saying to my husband that a chai shop was a must have in heavily populated asian areas, so i was thrilled to see what looked like a really good one locally.
It is very difficult to capture the essence of India in any cafe within the UK. I mean it’s a huge ask. India has so much personality that it would be virtually impossible to cram all of that into a shop. I’m sure the same would apply the other way round too. Has Chaiiwala managed to bring a little bit of India to Leicester? What do you think?
I think they have done quite well. Don’t you? Now i’m about to get lost in India…..What is it about India that makes capturing it’s magic so important? When i think about my time in India, the first thing i think about is experiencing that heat. I mean the heat was so unbelievably overwhelming and the intensity of it was so unexpected. Yes i knew it would be hot but really hot enough to make me instantly sweat till my ankles? No i wasn’t expecting that. Hot enough to make my eyes feel like dry prunes clunking around in my eye sockets. Nope wasn’t expecting that. Hot enough to make me imagine that my ear drums would pop.. Ok ‘ll stop. You get my drift. It was our first holiday and before then the most intense heat i had experienced was summer in London. This was so far beyond that heat and i was taken aback by its severity.
For me India is magical. It was my first love. If i could, i would travel there again in a heartbeat. The colours, the hustle and bustle, the crowds, the music, the motorbikes, the rickshaws and even the unrestrained animals randomly walking around on the road all add to its allure.
India feels like a massive adventure. It has a unique charm. It is exotic, delightful, vibrant and fun. Also overcrowded, kinda polluted, sometimes smelly and sadly as mentioned, poverty stricken too. 🙁 In this fascinating country, getting the right price/advice/directions is near enough impossible. Using public transport means you may be risking your life. Bartering is necessary but it does not mean that you will find the best price. Despite all of that, there is something so exhilarating about wondering through the streets and markets of India.
Public transport may be a threat to your life but it is also exciting and an experience you will never ever forget. There’s no dozing off on the trains unless you are a local who is accustomed to the frequent interruptions from both people selling various goods and young entertainers. These entertainers would come and dance/sing in your carriage whilst people would jeer and clap along. They may have been entertaining for survival/for their next meal but they looked like they were having the time of their lives.
When we specifically talk about chaiiwalas or tea sellers, my mind instantly goes to Mumbai. If you have ever had the erm..pleasure of staying at the Musafir Khana (A death trap, i mean hotel in the heart of Mumbai/Bombay), then you may have also seen the guy with the really red eyes (someone tell the guy that he needs some rest please) who sits opposite ladelling tea into cups all day. He sits directly next to an axe wielding butcher (ok thats what it looked like when i was 9). The butcher hacks away at the meat all day and the chaiiwala ladels the tea all day. The only thing you would hear the chai guy (i’m a poet) say would be ‘chai, garam garam chai (Tea, hot hot tea) in the manner of a market trader selling fruit and veg in the UK. I never did taste that tea but i knew that it was most likely syrupy sweet, wonderfully fragrant and beautifully spiced. I could almost taste it. My dad and street food don’t get on which is probably why i am so obsessed with it now. We weren’t allowed to even dream about tasting street food or drinks in this case. My dad was not having it.
I don’t remember if clay cups were part of the equation at red eye man’s tea stall but they were a thing back when i went to India, at most stalls. People would drink steaming hot chai whilst i stared at them with my tongue out and made them feel uneasy. It really wasn’t my fault. I could almost taste it. I imagined that it would be quite restorative after a long walk under the rays of the intense indian sun. We had to make do with a Thumbs up or Gold Spot. I mean how is that better???? After people finished with their chai, they would toss the clay cup into the streets where the cups would disintegrate back into the earth.
The Chaiiwala brand in Leicester has somehow managed to bottle some of the magic of India up whilst adding it’s own modern twist. The hustle and bustle of Mumbai is somehow captured in the shop because it is quite small. The Taj Mahal wall transports you back to Aagra. The Nimbu pani atop the counter is another popular street drink and a great thirst quencher, the shop layout/style/accessories, the food served in metal thalis, the masala chips, the chaiiwala newspaper food wrap and even the paper cups littering the streets all add to the overall effect.
You see a variety of customers in the shop. From the older men putting the world to rights, the young on their way to work and even the likes of James Caan (One of the Dragons Den dragon’s).
Often when you return to a tea/coffee shop after some time, some of the details from the look of the place have slipped and the brand doesn’t feel as strong. Chaiiwala haven’t fallen into that trap. I think that is because they know exactly who they are and also who their customer is. Chaiiwala is the business people wished they had opened but never quite knew how. Mr Chaiwala executed it perfectly. They dared to step outside the box in a world where we are sometimes exposed to a lot of businesses who are offering ‘samey same’ food. What’s more the customer service is second to none.
The one thing i would say is that, the brand could go further with it’s offering in terms of street food. There is a whole host of food available on the streets of India and Chaiiwala could really exploit that. That being said, the small menu fits in with theme of the ‘fast’ chai service. The food could be spicier but is delicious nonetheless. In addition to their yummy tea, currently they offer these items. They have deviated slightly from the brand with some of the desserts. My guess is that like the slightly spicy masala omelette, this is to provide universal appeal.
It is wonderful to know that the Chaiiwalal brand is expanding with a new location in Leicester and one coming soon to Peterborough. I would love to see a Chaiiwala in every city/town across the nation.
In my opinion, Chaiiwala has done what it set out to do. It has made it a possibility to grab a masala chai on the go. It has also provided seating for those who want to grab a quick street food type snack. It has captured our imaginations and It has brought a little bit of India to Leicester.
This roti (tareli/hekeyli) takes me back to my childhood. It is a heart attack of a meal with loads of butter but it is so delicious dipped in sweet tea. We also sometimes used to have it dipped in cream to make it a little worse health wise. When i first made it for my husband, he just didn’t get it. So having it after so many years has reminded me to test it on him again!
Although i would still love to see a Rickshaw Chaiiwala on the streets!