You may not always associate afternoon tea with an Indian masala chai but it actually is a quintessential part of daily life in India. And while it’s not usually an elaborate affair, a cup of chai with a snack or two is commonplace. In fact, most people take multiple "chai breaks" over the course of the day, either at work or with family/friends/neighbors.
In Mumbai, the take on a cup of tea is called “cutting chai” – basically referring to a half cup of tea that is just enough for a quick refresh and boost. Typically, cutting chai is offered and enjoyed at roadside tea stalls and served in glasses (not cups), but now many modern cafes also serve it along with accompaniments.
It’s been a couple of decades since I last visited Mumbai for my cutting chai, so when I saw that Bindaas (Foggy Bottom) recently started an afternoon cutting chai menu, I had to check it out!
First things first, get the masala chai. Bindaas’ version of the chai is cardamom forward and aromatic. It’s brewed well and flavors are infused in the combination of black tea and milk. It’s definitely not a typical “half cup," but hey, the more chai the better, especially as we get into the colder months. The cutting chai menu includes a selection of snacks ranging from scones and cookies to sandwiches.
The “nankhatai” -- buttery cardamom cookies -- absolutely hit the spot with their crumbly texture and reminded me of the tastes back in Mumbai. They are made in house and are really the perfect accompaniment to the chai -- I could eat a dozen of these traditional sweet bites!
Tea sandwiches are also available. The cucumber sandwich with mint chutney (another staple snack/picnic food in India) is flavorful, delicate and a nice savory partner to the chai. The omelette sandwiches are a slightly more substantive option if you are hungrier. Both sandwiches are served with curried cole slaw.
My favorite offering though is the chili cheese toast. Slices of white bread are topped with melted cheese and a smattering of chili peppers – it’s warm, spicy and absolutely scrumptious. The gunpowder spiced fries that come alongside are addictive too.
Still hungry? The masala dosa -- a thin crepe stuffed with potatoes and served with a coconut chutney -- is substantive and surprisingly good. I say surprisingly only because I’m extremely picky about my dosas (they need to be thin and crisp, but not break into pieces) and Bindaas’ version is pretty darn good! Actually, extremely good. The crepe is nice and crispy, but not too crunchy, the spiced potatoes are delicious even on their own, and the accompanying mint-coconut chutney is spot on.
If you want something that’s on the sweeter side, the scones with butter and jam are what you want. The housemade scones are more like biscuits and are served warm, perfect for slathering on the strawberry jam with a hint of rose. Rose can tend to be overpowering sometimes, but not in the case of this jam, as it lends a very soft floral note, which enhances the sweetness of the strawberry.
The cutting chai menu is offered Sunday to Friday from 3-5 p.m., and the prices are extremely fair with most dishes in the $3-$6 range. The full menu is also available at this time, and the side of pakoras or samosas go spectacularly with the chai.
If you plan to visit Mumbai anytime soon, don't forget to enjoy your cup of cutting chai at a typical tea stall. But until then, head to Bindaas in D.C. to get a taste.