Biriyani Chaya

Brown ring test – How many of you remember this from Chemistry class? I still remember fellow blogger and friend Pradeep’s dad N Balakrishnan Nair teaching me the basics of testing for nitrates in chemistry class. Add ferrous sulphate solution followed by concentrated sulphuric acid to the nitrate. A brown ring forms at the junction of the two liquids. Positive ID.

How many of you have seen, ordered or drunk a Biryani Chaya? You get this only in certain hotels at Calicut, one of them being the old Sagar, next to the KSRTC stand. Well, you get a glass with three layers, the dark tea layer, the mixed lighter colored layer & the milk froth layer on top, each separate from the other. Sometimes you can also discern the faint sugar layer at the bottom. You look at it, marvel at the technique of the tea man and then put in the spoon that is provided, to stir and complete the regular glass of tea….Soon these are going to be things of the past!!! The trick is somewhat like this. Pour milk in glass, hold a long spoon and dribble tea by the spoon handle/stem so that it goes straight to the bottom. I guess this came from SE Asia to India through the many from Malabar who worked in Burmese or Malay tea plantations, they must have seen this done in Burma.

Thai Coconut iced tea – Strangely this has not caught on in India even though we have such exotic uses for coconut milk in Kerala. Here Coconut milk is used instead of regular milk and the layering is always done for effect. But you do not make a layer in the middle like Calicut Biryani tea. Sometimes you add condensed or evaporated milk on top and stir in some star anise powder.

Saigon tea is similar to Thai tea, but well it had another connection apparently during the Vietnam War.

The most famous street in the east, the Rue Catinat, had been renamed Tu Do, for Independence. Bar (bars had exotic names – ‘we try harder’ was one) girls hung out of doorways and yelled to passing Westerners, "You buy me Saigon tea?"

Saigon tea was a flavored concoction that was the expensive ticket to a bar girl's company. A veteran recounts - Saigon Tea is the term the GI's used to refer to what the bar girls drank when they encouraged a lonely soldier to buy them a drink. Some of the more naive soldiers would become angry when they found out that the booze was really tea and that their attempts to get the girls drunk and seduce them were for naught. They were getting screwed but only metaphorically. I don't remember what it cost but it wasn't cheap. The girls would allow various degrees of groping depending on how much tea you bought (and $ you spent!).

Authors note – The research into Saigon tea was fascinating – how the girls hoodwinked the round eyed Charlee’s for many dollars worth of drinks during the 60’s – Saigon tea $1.35 to $2.00 each, every 10-15 minutes, served in thimble size glasses, only for the bar girls. Once you stopped buying the tea, she moved to the next GI Joe.

Sagar photo – Freebird on flickr
Coconut tea – Easy home cooking



One learns some interesting things reading your blog.
Next time in Calicut I must try Sagar tea.
narendra shenoy said…
There is a similar version of coffee available in a small roadside cafe in a village named Kalladka, on the road from Mangalore to Mysore. They call it the "rim-jhim" coffee. I spent several fun-filled hours trying to replicate it, without much success, and consumed so much coffee (trying to get rid of the evidence) that I couldn't sleep properly for a week.

I love the presentation. Probably going to die out, alas and alack.

Enjoyed that post. Wish you a happy new year!
Sounds interesting. There is a cocktail which is made the same way, using ingredients of different densities.

So why do they call it "Biryani Chaya?"

Happy Kitten said…
Me too.. will try to consume the Biriyani chai from Sagar...

So here's is my wishes to you too for a wonderful New Year. and may you keep us all entralled with your wirtings..

clink.. let me drink this cup (sadha, seedha) of chai now.....
Nanditha Prabhu said…
happy new year to you and yours!
Nanditha Prabhu said…
have never heard of biryani chaya before. it was an interesting read! :)how did it get its name?
Maddy said…
Thanks all of you...and hope the new year treats you all very well..

I am not sure why it is called Biryani Chaya though - It used to be served after a meal of Biryani in those hotels. But on the other hand, there could have been another reason, next time I go to Sagar, i will surely ask..
Pradeep said…
Thanks for the reference you made to my father. It took my memories back to the Chemistry lab...
Maddy said…
I have been thinking about the name biryani chaya - well, if you look at proper kaka biriyani or mughalai biryani, it is made as a layered dish and so the tea made thus is equated to a layered biryani - thus goes my theory!!

Pradeep - that chemistry lab was where many of my ideas took root. I still remember my science talent project about the acidity of milk..