“Chai is not a beverage, it is happiness in a cup”
There might be a million things that pops into your mind when you think about India. Himalayas, Yoga, Beaches of Goa, Placid backwaters of Kerala, Saffron Clad Sadhus, Butter chicken and Naan, Lassis, Cows on the street! As I said, millions of things. Amongst all these things, the one thing that stands out is the ubiquitous hot tea or Chai as it is fondly known in India.
India runs on Chai. As far as I am concerned,
“Chai, is not a beverage, it is happiness in a cup!”.
The most important thing to note is that,
Chai = Tea + Inexplicable Emotions.
If there is perhaps one thing that unites India, then it is Chai. Traveling across India, I have noticed that though Chai is made differently in each region, the emotions behind chai are still the same. A cup of Chai is something that most Indians wake up to, a Chai is the perfect ice breaker for the newbie in the office, a lot of love has been shared over a cup of Chai!
I grew up in the coffee growing areas of Coorg and coffee was the go-to beverage for us. But I too have a special connection with Chai. I love Chai as much as I love coffee! I have very fond memories of drinking the light sweet milky Chai that my grandmother makes. Back in 2005-2008 when I was a student I was broke most of the time, and the only lunch I could afford sometimes was a cup of Chai from the college canteen for Rs.3 and a small pack of parle-g biscuit for Rs.2!
My fondest memory of Chai would be the first time I tried Masala Chai! It was probably about 20 years ago. My parents had gone to Mysore for some shopping and in one of the shops they were offered a masala Chai. My Amma was so impressed that she got the recipe and tried to make it at home. When she got back home, she told me all about the masala Chai. The next evening, she decided to try out the recipe. She added some crushed fresh ginger, cardamom, and black pepper to the Chai, one sip was all it took for me to fall in love with Masala Chai! Thus, began my little love affair with Chai.
Whenever I go to a new town, I hunt for a Chai shop. The Chai shop usually becomes my anchoring point for the town. In Fort Kochi too I found a great Chai shop, courtesy my friend Dax. Here I am sharing my Morning Chai Routine. This is something that you can do while you are in Fort Kochi. This is perhaps the best local experience in Fort Kochi. If you choose not to drink or not eat anything, then this is a free local experience. If you choose to have a Chai and a snack to eat, then this could be the best local breakfast you can get. Either ways you win.
A Bit About This Iconic Chai Shop In Fort Kochi – The best place for Local Fort Kochi Food
My favourite Chai shop in Fort Kochi is located bang opposite the Chinese Fishing Nets, only a few minutes’ walk from the Fort Kochi beach. The location couldn’t get any more picturesque! The Chinese Fishing nets ranks high on the list of, “What to see in Fort Kochi“
This Chai shop is essentially a cart from where they serve piping hot Chai, coffee, and a variety of local snacks. This shop is owned by Achu, who has been running it for over 3 decades now! His customers were mainly the fishermen, the crew from the local bus station and the sanitation workers of Fort Kochi. The Chai and snacks that he serves are so delicious that he attracts customers from all walks of life! This is the favourite spot of the locals who go for their morning walks and bike rides, or just for their morning fix of Chai, locally known as Chaya. Definitely the best place to try some local Fort Kochi food.
This Chai shop functions in an interesting way. Usually, there is always a crowd of people around the shop, so there is no question of ordering a Chai; more often than not, you will find a few cups of black Chai and milky Chai on the counter along with an assortment of fried snacks. You just walk up to the counter, pick up a Chai and a snack, and pay for what you have taken later. The guys who run the place do not particularly monitor what each person has taken, you just tell them what you have taken and pay for it! No questions asked! It just works on trust and mutual respect. At least this has been my experience on the hundreds of occasions that I have been there in the past 4 years. On the many occasions when I have taken guests of foreign nationalities, they are thoroughly surprised by the way things work here; their surprise is understandable considering that they have most likely been scammed or made to pay the foreigner price at many places!
This place is as local as it gets when it comes to eating local Fort Kochi Food. There are no frills attached and the prices are super affordable. I am listing below a few things that they sell, with their prices and local names. Prices as in August 2020. (Approximate conversion rate is at 1 USD / Euro/ GBP = 80 Indian Rupees)
For the morning fix of Chai, these are the options available. Priced at Rs.8
If you prefer coffee, here is a list of what is available. Priced at Rs.8
Usually I like to have a light snack along with my morning Chai. Here is a list of light snacks that you can find there. Snacks are priced between Rs.6 and Rs.15
Apart from being just a Chai and snack place, they also cater to the breakfast requirements of some of the locals. Here is a list of local breakfast flavours available there.
The quintessential local breakfast would be either Puttu, Appam or Idiappam with one of the curries and a Chai. This combo would typically cost you less than Rs.100.
One of my favorite breakfast combinations is to have a couple of Savaala Bajji with Mutton chops! This combo would typically cost you less than Rs.100.
This place is not on Google Maps, I am sharing the nearest location here.
How This Routine Started.
In my about page I had mentioned about how I ended up being in Fort Cochin and how I started working for Raw Adventure. While working with Raw adventure, Dax would pick up Jithin and me from Happy Camper Hostel around 7 every morning. We would head over to this Chai shop, pick up a Chai and a snack. We would easily spend the next hour or so at this place and have more Chai and snacks while we exchanged stories, ideas and built up our tours. The street side Chai shop was our place to brainstorm! This is a great place for stories and conversations because you keep bumping into interesting people from all walks of life.
Until June 2020 I was managing Happy Camper Backpacker’s Hostel in Fort Kochi. This Chai routine was a big part of my life while running the hostel. Sometimes I would take a few backpackers along with me on my little Chai run. If it was just me, or one other guest from the hostel I would go there on my trustworthy old motorcycle, if there were more than one guest with me then we would take the Raw Adventure Jeep; maybe once in a while I would even walk up to the place. Walking around Fort Kochi in the morning hours is an experience in itself!
Why I Love This Morning Activity
This routine has sort of become an anchoring point in my life in Fort Kochi. Over the past many years, I have built up many fond memories. The reason I like this part of my day is not just because of the Chai and snacks, but also because of the rich experience it has given me. This routine is one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with Fort Kochi!
If you go out at this time of the day, you get a real feel of Fort Kochi. I love walking under the canopies of the ever-enchanting rain trees of Fort Kochi. This is the time that many of the local people are out for their morning walks or jogs or walking their dogs. You can see people playing cricket and football in the grounds, and you can also see good old Rufus uncle giving football lessons to young kids, even at his prime age of 89! Read his story here!
Usually people who go to the Chai shop just hang around the cart and sip their Chai, but I like to cross the street to where the Chinese Nets are on the banks of the backwater. I like to sip my Chai as the fishermen work the Chinese Nets, or bring their catch on their canoes. Sometimes I can even spot some of the dolphins in the backwaters of Fort Kochi! There are so many such small things that happens around this place, things that shows the essence of Fort Kochi, a place that I call home. If you orient yourself with your back to the Chai shop, the nearest Chinese nets are on the right side across the street.
Once I have had my Chai, I go back to the shop, return the glass, and pay him. Then I usually like to cross the street again and walk left, towards the beach.
If you walk left towards the beach along the cobbled streets, you can see more of the Chinese nets. As you walk further, you can usually see a crowd of people around the place where they auction fish! The local fishermen bring in their catch and auction it right there.
If you continue walking along the promenade you will reach the Fort Kochi beach. I like to walk on the beach, because this is also the place where you can watch some of the local fishermen who use throw nets which are traditionally used; the grace with which they spin and cast their nets into the water is something worth admiring! As you walk along the beach promenade, you can get a clear view of where the backwater meets the ocean. One of the reasons that there is so much of fishing activity there is because of the intermingling of the backwater and oceanic eco systems.
As you go ahead on the walkway you will eventually end up at a place that looks like a parking place. This is where you can find the Beach Health Club, which is essentially an open gymnasium where the local people work out. You can also see some of the locals swimming in the ocean. I would not recommend swimming here because of the strong undercurrents, there is also a warning board by the local authorities prohibiting swimming. This is also the place where the animal loving people of Fort Kochi feed stray dogs and pigeons.
This little activity sets up the day for exploring more of Fort Kochi. A good way to go around Fort Kochi is either on foot, on a bicycle or on a motorcycle. Walking is a great way to explore Fort Kochi because it gives you a lot of opportunity to sneak into side lanes and take as many pictures as you want.
Enjoy exploring Fort Kochi. Hope you like it as much as I do!
Listed below are some handy tips
1) The tea/coffee is very sweet, so ask for less sugar or without if you prefer so.
2) The snacks can be spicy for some people. Of all the snacks available, fried Pathiri is the least spicy.
3) Usually tea/coffee + a small snack will cost you under Rs.20/- But, do ask them for the price beforehand.
4) When you got near the Chinese nets you can take pictures from the banks for free, but if you accept their invitation to go up on the planks or to help them pull the ropes then usually there is money involved.
5) My Chai routine including a long walk on the beach usually takes about 60 minutes of medium paced walk with a stop for chai and photographs. The best time to do this would be before 8.30 AM.
6) If you want to rent out bicycles there are plenty of options, the prices ranging from Rs.100 per day to Rs.1500 per day, depending on what type of bicycle you choose. Please remember to lock your bicycles.
7) You can also rent out scooters starting at around Rs.400 per day.
8) Carry insect repellent creams.
9) Say hello to the kitties and the doggies 😊