Downtown Dhaba Chai

As our date of departure nears, we have been dealing with the logistics of picking up and moving halfway across the world for the foreseeable future.

Tata India map

Constantly cleaning the apartment to secure that elusive responsible, clean and sane subletter? Check.

Nonstop studying of YouTube tutorials, DSLRs for Dummies books and comments to learn how to take stunning photographs of the chai wallahs we meet? Check.

Scrambling to stay on top of our website, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and WordPress accounts – and accidentally deleting essential HTML code along the way? Check and check.

Amidst the madness, we carved out time to meet some key players in the Indian diaspora – the Chai Wallahs of New York City.

First stop on our list was Punjabi Grocery & Deli. A “pure veg” takeout spot popular with taxi drivers, health conscious yogis and cash-strapped college students, this hole-in-the-wall is the East Village’s answer to the roadside dhabas found throughout India. It’s one of our favorite places for a delicious, cheap Indian meal, and a go-to spot to grab a cup of chai. We dropped by to investigate how this downtown dhaba crafts their brew and to meet the chai wallah behind the cups.

Surinder brews a cup Punjabi Deli style

Surinder Singh brews a cup at Punjabi Grocery & Deli

Surinder Singh, the gregarious Sikh manning the counter, was all too happy to speak with us about our project and his chai. In between customers, we chatted in Hinglish and learned that instead of having one chai wallah around to specialize in making tea, all deli employees are well versed in using the espresso machine to steam milk. To this, they add a bag of plain black tea, several cardamom pods, a sliver of ginger, and two heaping spoonfuls of sugar.

Gotta go for the double teabag.

Gotta go for the double teabags.

“It’s not the traditional Indian way of making chai,” Surinder acknowledged. “In India, there are also machines. But there you mostly find it is the big pot.”

Cheers to finding the best big pot.

Chai at our favorite downtown dhaba.

Chai at our favorite downtown dhaba.

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