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Sulaimani Chai

This post first appeared on Totally Filmi on November 5, 2017.

One of the things the film Ustad Hotel introduced me to was Sulaimani chai, which is mentioned many times in the film, and which has an important role in one scene in particular. It’s also known as Malabar spiced tea — a reference to the Malabar coast in India, on which the city of Kozhikode (Calicut), where the film is set, lies.

There’s a moment in the film when Faizi and Kareem Ikka are going over the day’s receipts, and Faizi complains that it would be much easier if his grandfather would just computerize their operations.  Kareem Ikka calls over his right hand man, Ummar, and asks him to tell them the day’s business.  

Ummar rattles off a list:  86 paratha, 14 fish curry, 13 chicken curry, 22 chicken biryani, 3 mutton biryani.

Oh, and:


Sulaimani chai is not only a distinctive Kerala tea, it’s thought to aid in digestion, and, as a result, is often served after a meal of biryani.  The recipes I’ve read on-line vary a little bit from person to person, but the basics are:  black tea, sugar, lemon juice, and spices — usually ginger, cardamom, and perhaps mint leaves.

At one point in the film, Faizi and his grandfather are sitting out by the sea, talking, and Kareem Ikka brews a pot of Sulaimani chai for them to drink.  Faizi suggests there’s something different about the ingredients, naming some:  cardamom?  Cinnamon?  Or cinnamon leaf?  His grandfather comments that he’ll tell him the ingredients, but there’s more to it than just that:  it’s more about the feeling when you’re preparing it than the ingredients themselves:


If you search for Sulaimani chai on the interent, you’ll definitely turn up many good recipes if you decide you want to try it.  I can’t offer up anything authentic, but I’d like to share a little variation I’ve some up with for it.

Take 2 cups of water, and add in 2 teaspoons of sugar, as well as a scant 1/4 teaspoon of spices.  I used the Mille et une Nuits/Thousand and One Nights blend from Epices de Cru/Spice Trekkers:  it contains some of the spices generally used in Sulaimani chai, as well as others.  I spooned a scant 1/4 teaspoon into the pot, making sure to get some peppercorn and a cardamom pod, as well as the ground mint, fennel, rose leaf and saffron it contains.  Boil this mixture for a couple of minutes, then add the tea.  Here, I used a bit more than a 1/4 teaspoon of Kenyan Tinderet — it’s a strong tea, but recommended as refreshing for after a meal, so it sounded suitable.  But you don’t want the tea to be too strong, so whatever you use, a 1/2 teaspoon to a teaspoon, judging the colour/strength of the tea, will be suitable.  Boil the tea and spice mixture for a few more minutes, then add some lemon juice:  a teaspoon will do, a little more if you like lemon.

Filter the tea into a glass, and then enjoy, imagining yourself looking out to sea on the Malabar coast.

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