Post updated on July 6, 2015 to include Al Hara Cafeteria…
As a child of Dubai, without the national passport and only years of existent of living in UAE, I have identified a few if not all the ‘eats’ that are not culturally imperative to the Emirati cuisine but ideally ascertains what my taste buds have accustomed to growing up in Dubai, from Shawarma – the strips of juicy lamb or chicken rolling on a spit, grilling in its own juices with slivers of meat shaved off and wrapped in an Arabic flat bread, to the mouth-watering and crunchiness of the classic Oman chips sandwich crushed and combined with layers of Kraft Cheese, and why leave the 90s breakfast staple, keema and paratha; and the one that remains constant till date, the condense milky goodness, karak chai.
Chai is the imperative fuel which the throngs of Dubai residents thrive on.
‘Karak Chai’ or ‘Kadak Chai’ roughly translates to strong or masala tea. A blend of black tea, milk, sugar and cardamom prepared by boiling this combination for a long period of time on a low flame. The regionally popular tea shops were set up by Indian expats and popularized by all nationalities. Fast forward to the present, it is now part of what is known as the ‘Dubai lifestyle’ with tea shops in Dubai and around the neighboring emirates with the illuminated signboards tempting the eyes and simultaneously triggering the need for the awakening, warm and comforting sip of tea.
In Dubai, karak chai gives you wings and not Red Bull – Anonymous
Ask anyone, as I did, it would be next to impossible to identify the one ultimate chai shop in Dubai, as each shop is special in its own blend of chai karak. I go about on a journey across the emirate to locate chai shops that have caused a craze with the basic ingredients and won over Dubai serving hundreds and thousands of cups of tea daily with the sound of the car horn and yelling the magic words, “Ek karak chai” or “Wahid chai karak”, literal translation “one strong tea”, beckoning a cuppa.
Dunya Al Sham Pastry a.ka. Satwa Chai (Suggested by Mudassar A. K.)
If it’s not the line of cars with horns blaring and engines roaring, it will be the taste of the tea that would guarantee the immense popularity of Dunya.
You would like to think the valet parking at the malls of Dubai have the flashiest display of cars money can buy, think again, as none come close to the glitzy display of cars driving up front to the shop and signaling for? You guessed it, chai!
A quick chat with the chai guru (master), who refuses to stop pouring tea into the styrofoam cups in a well-coordinated manner, Rabiul Haque, the chai extraordinaire for the past five years at Dunya shares his two fils in Hindi as to why Dunya’s tea is popular.
According to Rabiul, “a blend of two tea brand is brewed on low heat and set to high when required”. Apparently, it takes “years of expertise to perfect the strong taste of the tea and for the accuracy of pouring the right amount of evaporated milk”, in which case at Dunya, the brand of choice is Rainbow Evaporated Milk.
“The most popular tea is zafrani (saffron) tea and next, karak chai”, which Dunya manages to sell on an average, “3000 to 5000 cups per day” with the opening hours from 7 AM – 2 AM.
Apart from the tea, the inbuilt brick oven serves fresh and piping hot fatayer (meat pie pastry) and the most popular, honey and cheese pastry to perfectly compliment the tea at Dunya Al Sham Pastry
Al Hara Cafeteria a.ka. Disco Chai
There is disco, the psychedelic funk genre of music that arose mid to late 1970s and then there’s ‘disco chai’ from Al Hara Cafeteria in Karama that stands strong and proud, with popularity so immense, they spread out to open a second cafeteria within arm’s reach of the first Al Hara.
If it’s not the green tee-shirt clad chai men forming a coordinated chai tray dance as you try to catch their attention, it’s the rotation of cars and the blinking of the car hazard lights that cause a stir around the popular and locally coined ‘disco chai’ junction.
The populari-tea of Al Hara can be credited to the famous ‘disco chai’ that essentially is karak chai boiled with cardamom and served with Rainbow’s cardamom evaporated milk. The seeping of the cardamom seeds and the intensity of the flavors from the evaporated milk give the cuppa chai a fragrant and refreshing taste paired well with a piping hot samosas or two. 😉 I hear from the grapevine, the sandwiches and shawarmas are a quick hunger fix as well.
Seating at Hara is limited but hey, in true desi Dubai style, one finds a way by standing around, sipping a cuppa and chatting away, competing with the car horns signaling for disco chai.
Stay tuned for more chai shop gems in Dubai, from the well-known shops to the most hidden!