A look at the very, very Bahraini tradition of the tea shop
Chai Cafe Traditionally modern
Last month we concentrated on the very British institution of afternoon tea but, here in Bahrain, you are far more likely to find the locals (and many ex-pats) indulging in their own tea tradition of chai or karak.
With its origins in India, karak made its way to the Middle East with the establishment of trade routes and it very quickly became a way of life.
One that Nizar Habib is keen to rejuvenate with his newly-opened Chai Café, opposite Bahrain Mall in Seef.
Serving a whole range of teas, whether the strong, sweet Arabic version, green tea, saffron tea or the true milky karak, prepared with tonnes of sugar and condensed milk, much loved by the Asian community, you will find it here.
But you’ll also find a place that looks nothing like the traditional chai shop, spotlessly clean with state-of-the art, stainless steel utensils and machines and the best of ingredients brought in from around the world.
However, that’s where the modernisation stops. The store manager and his assistant are still there well before opening time at 6.30am to get the chai brewing for at least half an hour to make sure it has that deliciously strong flavour.
Nizar explains: “I wanted to bring back the chai shops I was used to as a youngster growing up in Bahrain – if you like, it’s a modern concept on a traditional chai café.
“So here you will find traditional tea, though most of our customers prefer it either black or with fresh milk rather than the condensed milk. The tea is imported from India and we use only bottled water to make sure we get the right taste.
“We also sell bagels with good cheese and chickpeas, which is one of the traditional things you would find to eat in an old tea shop (prepared with chillis, they really are very tasty) and the old-style sandwiches that I loved from my childhood such as OK chips or Oman chips with hot sauce and a slice of tomato – it might not sound that great but, trust me, they’re really popular with people who remember these things.”
And there’s also the two types of balaleet – vermicelli served either with egg at breakfast time or with lots of sugar in the evening – and various other traditional Bahraini deserts.
The main business at Chai Café is delivery, based, says Nizar, on the chai wallah of old. But you can also settle down inside the shop where you’ll find your tea served in traditional glasses or hand-painted Bahraini ceramic ware.
And with the start of Ramadan, Nizar plans to open the eat-in café section, since Chai Café has proved so popular he’s expanded into the premises nextdoor.Chai Café is open daily from 6.30am-11pm, Friday 4pm-midnight. (17 001 727).
By Time Out Bahrain staff
Time Out Bahrain, 31 July 2012