Over a Cup of Noon Chai
A typical breakfast in Kashmiri homes is incomplete without a pinkish flavoury and steaming cup of Noon Chai.
The Noon Chai (Noon = Salt and Chai = Tea), also known as Kashmiri Pink Tea or Sheer Chai is a traditional beverage which all Kashmiri people love and relish since times immemorial. In the long list of chai varietals, this one is robust, flavorsome and prettily pink.
Legend has it that this particular tea was introduced into the Kashmiri Society by Shah - e - Hamdan, a popular Muslim missionary, at a time when alcohol consumption was deeply entrenched in to the Kashmiri Culture. The Noon Chai had the bitterness of alcohol but not the intoxication part of it. Hence it began to be served in gatherings and households as a substitute for alcohol. It would quench people's thirst for alcohol, keeping them sane at the same time.
Gradually, the people of the land started relishing the heavenly flavor of this bitter salty tea and it made its way into each and every household of Kashmir.
Noon Chai is typically brewed in a traditional Copper Samovar with engraved or embossed motifs which represent the cultural landscape of the valley. Inside the Samovar is another mini-world where the noon chai secretly brews. In it is a chamber of fire, which is home to burning coals. This burning coal heats up the entire Samovar from the inside. There is another chamber surrounding the fire in which water, tea leaves, cardamom, milk and a tinge of Baking soda are added. The strength of the Copper maintains the high temperature which is required to extract the complete essence of the tea.
Once ready, Noon Chai is enjoyed by one and all at breakfast time and especially savored with traditional Kashmiri bread like a Tchotchvor , a Kulcha, or a Sheermaal. It is a treat to ones taste buds to dunk a piece of Kulcha into the Noon Chai and hog it up.
One would generally associate the Noon Chai time to Family time, wherein the whole family gathers around a "Dastarkhwan" (a small cloth mat on which food is served) and spends quality time with each other "over a steaming cup of Noon Chai".