Chai - & - Announcing 1-recipe/week from Bon Appetit

Chai has featured more or less consistently in my writing. A series of poems I have written and posted on Desi Writers Lounge is called Chai and a Poem. The poems aren't all about chai, but doesn't it create a powerful image? A cup of steaming chai next to a piece of paper with words scribbled on it that make a poem - a few phrases married to each other to create compelling meaning. Most of the prose I have written recently has chai in it - a girl sitting on her balcony sipping a cup of chai, watching the city breathing, writhing, teeming below her; a woman breaking the coat of milk-fat forming on top of her chai and wondering if this is how her relationship with her father is breaking apart - one touch of a finger and a million cracks running all over the thin wrinkled brown layer; a boy and girl on a rooftop in Lahore during Basant, the festival of kites, a teacup breaking as it slips and falls between them, a meet-cute. I use chai consistently in my poems, too. The brown ring of chai left on a glass-top table, a reminder of somebody no longer there. Burnt chai. Strong chai. Weak chai. Chai the color of someone's skin. Chai that burns. Chai that soothes. Chai that reminds you there is much to live for yet. Not long ago, my good friend, the amazing Editor of Papercuts, and humorous blogger Afia Aslam asked me, "Why didn't we call your blog Chai and a poem?"

There is something inspiring about this humble drink. It is a beverage that crosses all class barriers in Pakistan. The cleaning girl, the errand boy, the washerwoman, the driver - they may have a separate set of china for their chai, but it is poured out of the same pot as Bibi Jee's or Sahib's. It is what sells year-round on the street in chipped porcelain cups (or small narrow glasses if you're across the Wagah Border). Every home has a way of brewing it. And when guests arrive, the hosts ask, "Chai? Thanda?" (Chai or something cold?). Until recently, my image of an arranged marriage, which is common in Pakistan, was one of a demure young lady wheeling a tea trolley with kebabs, samosas, scones, pastries, and the queen of the arrangement, chai in a majestic teapot, to the drawing room.

The oft-overlooked, humble chai is quite an inspiration. If you don't believe me, just look at the pictures Rebecca took!

Chai is the first thing I really learned how to "cook." I spent a long time coming up with just the right recipe. The best kind of milk (whole milk), the right amount of Lipton Yellow Label Orange Pekoe (sorry, PG Tips), the perfect additions (crushed green cardamom), and the right length of boiling. I mastered it. It's what I did on stressful afternoons back in Davis with an exam looming in the near future. It physically made me overcome my stress, relaxed my tense muscles one by one, made me realize it was going to be OK. It was strangely therapeutic for me, this act of making the perfect cup of chai. And now I feel the same way about cooking (and maybe even baking).

This is my perfect cup of chai
And this is a great segue to the second part of this post - the announcement! I will be cooking 1 recipe per week from past issues of Bon Appetit magazine that have been accumulating in my kitchen for over a year now. Posts will be labeled with the "1-recipe/week from Bon Appetit" tag. I will be cooking on Mondays and posting pictures (taken by Rebecca), an accompanying blog post, and a link to the recipe by the end of each week - Friday-ish. Stay tuned for....drumroll please....Fallen Chocolate Cake....coming soon!

Photos by Rebecca McCue