Tea & Spice it up with Arabian nights

Angshuman Paul, Tea-entrepreneur & tea estate owner, Girish Chandra Tea Estate, A.C Paul Agricultural Company

It’s interesting to see how ethnic practices gradually bring in new vistas for contemporary organizers while they are hosting various functions. For the month of February this year, I have indulged intensively in such ethnic oeuvres and would be obliged to share them with you at a glance. Let me take you to Dubai where my host welcomed me with an intensive Moroccan Black tea. Tea in the UAE has been re-contextualized in the traditional Arabic way, so although my host Ishan Ray Choudhury (an avid Moroccan tea drinker who’s also nostalgic about Darjeeling tea) introduced me to this Moroccan tea, my quest was to be part of the organized traditional Arabic tea and spice tours. Before I mention more about these Arabian delicacies and their Indian connection, it will be nice to provide a platform that relates Moroccan tea with India. Moroccan tea unlike Indian black tea is sweeter (no need to add additional sugar).

Bucked up with this mission, I traveled to the Arabian desert on a tour that instills in the traveler a deep appreciation for Bedouin culture. Chaiwallahs have a beautiful bonding in Bedouin cuisine, which commences with the ceremonial pouring of tea or coffee from Dallas (traditional Arabian-pots) and when I said I belong from Darjeeling, a few of them enquired about Darjeeling tea. Indian tea has a fervent flavor, which was not present in Arabian tea, as Arabian tea is garnished with excessive boiling, making the flavor bit bitter. But you could harmonize it with Indian tea as lots of Indian brands are being exported to Dubai (I found that Tata Tea has a maximum retail presence).

It is as if the chai patterns hint at personal geographies, as they spread out, mapping unchartered courses. For instance, the same withered CTC or Orthodox tea from India has adopted its own pattern in Bedouin cuisine. But this article would not be complete if we don’t talk about Arabic cuisine. Arabic Bedouin dishes are dominated by red-chilli & turmeric spices, which are imported from foreign lands (read India & Pakistan). Chili Pepper Spice, Cayenne Pepper Spice, and Black Pepper Spice are three spices, among the long list of spices that are appreciated among the Arabs as heat-adders. And when it comes to the culinary bonding between Indians and Bedouins, both of them use Chili Pepper Spice. Whether it be in an Indian spice blend (like Curry Powder hot & Cayenne Pepper Spice) or in an Indian dish itself (like Tandoori Chicken), Indian cooking is revered by any heat lover.

But if reading so much on extreme hot spices is creating a phobia in you with respect to Arabian cuisine, then let me tell you that Arabians in fact go gentle while using them in camel meat, Arabian fish curry, and Shawarmas. Although Shawarma is a Lebanese dish, there are a number of Shawarma shops in Dubai & Saudi Arabia, and my experience in a few of these shops indicates that red chilies from India are ground before being used to marinate the meat for Shawarmas. These dishes are served with Moroccan Black tea and often in combo offers. It might be weird as we are used to combos of pizzas with carbonated drinks/juices but even Moroccan tea with a Lebanese dish is equally enjoyable.