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Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Best... Chai

Well, as the longest, coldest winter in my Prague memory finally gives way to a warm (if admittedly still rather wet) spring, it seems only right to kick off this blog with a tribute to the one foodstuff that got me through the unseasonal last few months – namely chai in all its many and various varieties.

I first got hooked on masala chai when living in India, where little cups of serious “pick-me-up”, creamy spiced tea were readily available from the ubiquitous street stands there for just a few rupees a pop - back then five a day was easily the norm for me! Unfortunately the chai equivalents in the Czech Republic are much less authentic, more expensive, and certainly not as readily available, but still, they scratch an itch – especially, like I say, on those long cold winter’s days when you are bunged up with a cold, utterly down in the dumps, and can’t remember what sunlight on your skin feels like anymore...

Chai in the Czech Republic can be found primarily at all the main čajovna chains, as well as at a couple of the big coffee chains and Indian restaurants across the city. Of these, my favourites (in reverse order) are:

Starbucks / Coffee Heaven Chai Lattes

The ubiquitous Starbucks and Coffee Heaven chains obviously need no introduction from me, but are both the source of readily accessible (if at 89kč a cup both seriously expensive) chai lattes. While Starbucks lattes are based on a combination of Tazo® organic chai tea (comprising of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and star anise) and steamed milk, Coffee Heaven’s Orca / Tiger latte versions are actually made from an espresso mix of the same, though with all the spices thrown in, it still somehow tastes more tea-like than coffee-based. I actually like both equally, especially when heaped with copious powdered vanilla and nutmeg for that extra kick. Photos don’t really say a lot when it comes to big mugs of steamed milk corporate concoctions, but oh well, here you go anyway:

Chanchala Masala Chai, Palladium

This is a real contender for first place, and is definitely one of the most authentic, cheapest (at 65kč), and (on my part at least) frequently consumed versions available in Prague, even if it is served up in a decidedly inauthentic mall restaurant within an American-style food court. Throughout winter I usually ended up here on a Saturday afternoon after doing my weekly shop, and suspect ended up being known among the staff as “that weird girl who comes in every week on her own and only orders tea”. Still, it was worth it... ;-))

Chai, Chai, Chai, Dobra Čajovna

It was a close running thing with Chanchala chai, but ultimately the atmospheric Dobra Čajovna on Wenceslas Square pips it to the post with its creamy and comforting rendition of ‘Chai Chai Chai’ at 78kč. The lengthy tea menu describes the drink as “A black Indian Assam tea simmered in milk and strongly sweetened. Served in a 0.2l glass with an interrupted shout of ‘chai chai chai’”. All I can say is seriously yum – definitely guaranteed to instantly lift your mood if you’re having an otherwise shitty day.

Not exactly chai, but also worthy of a mention here is the similar variety of Yogi Tea, also offered at Dobra Čajovna at an eye-watering 108kč. This is a spiced tea served with cream and honey, which you add yourself to taste. The menu waxes lyrical on this tea as “an Indian ritual speciality of the Dobra tearoom, based on a recipe of Bhagnan Dass. A mixture of spices, ground ginger, cardamom, white pepper, anise, with a penetrating aroma and lightly intoxicating effects. A euphoric drink, suitable for drinking before a flight to warm climes”. That’s all very well and yes it does admittedly taste great, but still – 108kč for a blooming cuppa????? Will have to track down this mystical Bhagnan Dass and somehow bribe him into giving me the recipe, so that I can make it at home for virtually free.

Anyway that’s it for this first entry – thanks for reading this far and hopefully this will prove just the first of many Prague food and drink blogs to come... :-)))

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