So much has been said and written about Chai Jaai in Srinagar, that it has become an establishment synonymous with tourists as an essential on their to do list. They are known for their diverse range of teas, and an Instagram perfect décor and ambience. So when word reached our offices that Chai Jaai was hosting a food festival based on dishes and chai from Mumbai, we leapt at the opportunity to bring you an honest report of the items the people at Chai Jaai deem fit to call Mumbai “based” or “inspired.”
We expected a high standard of food, just as we’ve come to expect from Chai Jaai for so long now. And perhaps most importantly, I writing this, have lived in Mumbai my entire life. Who better to judge the quality of food at a Mumbai food festival than a Mumbaikaar himself?
The menu made for an interesting read, as I saw some staple items such as cutting chai and missal pav, listed on the menu. What was even more intriguing being the fact they’d they included a parsi food list, which contained Salli Botti. It makes me happy to realize that the parsi culture and Mumbai continue to be synonymously used even all the way north in Kashmir. Just a glance at this list had me excited for ordering dishes, that I hadn’t expected to eat in my time in Kashmir. We ordered a cutting chai, an Irani chai, vada pav and pav bhaji; all quintessentially Mumbai delicacies.
The chais were the first to arrive, served in the typical side of the street glass cups, presented in makeshift tea stalls all over Mumbai. The teas were aromatic, and I did enjoy the Irani chai, but what they label as ‘cutting chai’ on their menu, should not be referred to as ‘cutting’ or ‘chai’. In what appears to be mucky attempt to recreate a classic, the chai served to us tasted nothing as the comfortable cup of piping hot tea, created magnificently in so many parts of India. But do not let this take away from the fact that the Irani chai, and so many other magical teas served at chai jaai, are delightfully made and remain wonderful to indulge in.
When it comes to the food, we were left a tad bit disappointed with the Pav Bhaji. The managers at Chai Jaai confessed to us, that the bhaji was cooked with a ready made masala. That’s cheating isn’t it? Albeit the dish was a decent replica of a Mumbai staple, we didn’t feel the attempt was entitled to it’s price tag of 150 rupees, especially since you or I could cook it at home with the exact same readymade masala they confessed to use at the restaurant. The vada pav was quite delicious, and the vada perfectly cooked, I would’ve preferred a side of chutney, as a compliment to the dish. In Mumbai you always have the option of adding either mint, tamarind or garlic chutney for your vada pav, thus the lack of this was disappointing.
Overall, as a Mumbaikaar, I feel a sense of pride in seeing the cuisine of my city being paid homage to in other states. The Mumbai chai festival at chai jaai will be an intriguing experience for any seeking to taste the flavors of the city I call home. Don’t expect the dishes to be in any way close to what is served in the city, but nonetheless, the food served here is a great introduction to Mumbai gastronomy.