For want of a cup of chai in Rome, Guest Blog


By Amanjeet K. Chauhan @msamanjeet

It’s just tea, and yet it is everything to people like me and my mom, who cannot function if a piping hot cup of sweet milky tea doesn’t start our mornings.


Not only must it be tea, but it must be made like cha (no “i” in the Punjabi pronunciation), with water brought to a boil in a pot to which a tea bag is added and allowed to steep until milk is added. Then, the whole thing is brought to a boil again. Sugar, cardamom pods, fennel seeds and other spices may be added along the way, if desired. Compared to a Punjabi cha da cup, western-style “tea” consisting of a tea bag dunked into tepid water, as served at most places, doesn’t count.


Cranky as I may become without my morning cha da cup, crankier still becomes my lovely mom when denied her daily dose(s).


In April 2003, my mom and I spent two weeks in Italy, visiting my brother who was on a university exchange for six months in Milan. Not being seasoned travelers (yet), we hadn’t considered that chai may not be so readily available in a country where coffee reigns supreme.


Within a few days of our arrival in Milan, my mom’s energy had begun to sag. The weak tea bag and tepid hot water solution at breakfast wasn’t working for her, even if we could find it. By the time we hit Rome on Day 4, my brother and I were becoming desperate for a chai solution to keep her going.


It wasn’t just the chai she was missing. Italian food in general wasn’t suiting her Indian, mostly vegetarian, palate. Truth be told, I love pasta but I was missing a bit of spice in my diet as well. Then, as we walked in the glorious afternoon sunshine towards the Coliseum for our first few hours in Rome, we saw – hovering just above the sidewalk next to a short flight of stairs – the word: Sitar. That’s not an Italian word, which meant the establishment had to be an Indian restaurant. (In Rome!) It was. The lights were off, but the hours noted it would be open for dinner that evening.  We memorized the location of that ristorante indiano named Sitar, just a few blocks from our hotel. After the Coliseum tour and a rest, we headed back down Via Cavour to one of the most memorable dinners I have ever had. Not just because the menu satisfied a need, but because the meal served up was among the most delicious Indian cuisine I’ve ever had the pleasure to inhale. (In Rome!)


The restaurant was small and full of Europeans, and we three were the only ones of Indian descent. The proprietors were from Delhi and Punjab, and happy to invite us to an upcoming concert by Panjabi MC, whose song Mundian to Bach Ke Rahi I was to later hear blasting along many streets in Rome.



The dinner at Sitar fortified my mom and renewed her spirits. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t open for breakfast and, as much as the proprietors sympathized with my mom, we couldn’t bottle the chai and take it along with us.


Enter the friendly concierge at the Hotel Giorgio, who suggested a cappuccino substitution. We taught my mom how to call down for room service and slowly say, Uno cappuccino, per favore. She sounded so adorable as she carefully pronounced the syllables.


We, her terrible children, then proceeded to encourage her new addiction to the creamy coffee drink of the Italians, one that was easily available at cafes everywhere as we bounced along cobblestone streets and between railway stations across Italy.


It did the trick for those two weeks. Not that a cup of cappucino could ever replace a cha da cup…

This article was originally published on Amanjeet’s blog, galleryakc here:


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