In search of a tea house

Published: May 27, 2011

Being an army officer’s daughter, I have seen many cities in Pakistan. To say that I have been exposed to various cultures however, would be wrong as the only culture I have an understanding of is that of the army.

Most of my adult life however, I have been in Islamabad. Islamabad is the closest it gets to any city being my home. There’s something about the Margallas, the wide clean roads, the neatly laid shopping malls, the winter mornings and the summer afternoons in Islamabad that is so familiar, so comforting.

Just recently I had a chance to live in Karachi for three months. The city is a shocker for anyone who has lived most of his/her life in Islamabad; it’s huge! I have never seen so many people crammed in such small spaces. It is there that you realise how enslaved we are by our bodies; your eyes alone take weeks to get used to the mere enormity of the city that is Karachi. The smells, or the smell, the rickshaws, the dialect, the foggy air, the sea breeze, the frizzy hair – in short, the city is a wonderful contrast to the idea of a city an Islamabadi would have.

I would want to write more on how the city eventually grows on you, on how the divides we create are so unnecessary and disgraceful, however, that is beyond the scope of this article. What I loved the most about Karachi is that it excludes no one. Everybody is welcome and everybody becomes a part of it before they even know it.

From the Itwar (Sunday) Bazaar to Boat Basin, you see people of all religions, nationalities and cultures shopping and eating together with the kind of comfort that is inspirational. Women clad in saris or jeans, nobody turns around to stare at them. Nobody has the time.

One of my favourite places in Karachi was Roadside Café. It’s a small café by the “roadside” that serves Doodh patti, Kahwa and light snacks. It is not a fine dining place. Not a fancy one either. It is there that I figured the concept of a lounge – a place where people just come to sit and talk. From students to famous fashion designers and socialites, everyone sits there, in their shorts and pyjamas, or dressed up if they so please, having intense conversations, sharing jokes, or just listening to the wonderful Pakistani music being played in the back.

My take on Islamabad is that it’s a bubble. It’s a well done pretty bubble alright, but a bubble nevertheless. A bubble some rich politicians and retired bureaucrats have created to shield themselves from the chaos that is Pakistan. A few days ago, I wanted to go to a tea house, a desi place with wooden benches and no fancy façade, where I could sit and talk, and maybe read, without having to spend more than a hundred rupees. Turned out, there is no such place in Islamabad. Ironically, even Hot Spot, a centre for hot beverages, does not serve tea, the most popular hot beverage in Pakistan. It serves Coffee as its core hot drink category.

Ah coffee… I could go on and on. But before I do, let me clarify that I love coffee. I have nothing against it. I love coffee ice cream, coffee cakes, hot coffee, cold coffee, you name it. However, it is an acquired taste.

Did our ancestors drink coffee?

Is it a local produce or grown anywhere in the vicinity?

Do we have the weather for coffee with summers 10 months in a year?

Did we grow up drinking coffee?

I know most of us didn’t. An acquired taste is all right but it doesn’t change the fact that most of us, including the pseudo goray bachay, are still tea drinkers. But all you ever find in Islamabad are coffee houses!  Uppish interiors, dark gloomy lounges full of teenagers dressed to kill and loaded with money to throw away.

There are some really nice coffee lounges too. Mocha is a breath of fresh air. Table talk is another place I really like. But then again, they are at the epicentre of the bubble. How about going desi; not playing gora for a change? Get rid of the colonial mindset every now and then, if not permanently. If nothing else, it will add variety, no?

Let me assure you, there’s nothing more comforting that what is your own. When an Islamabadi goes out, I speak for myself here if it offends any other, he/she:

1. Dresses up

2. Stops at an ATM, gets money

3. Goes, orders, eats

4. Pays the bill

5. Comes home

6. Counts the number of things he/she wanted to talk about/ thought but didn’t get the time to share because they were too busy finishing the steak that cost Rs 800!

I miss Roadside. I loved the name because it says it all. I want to sit by the roadside, read to a friend, talk, have tea, and just sit there for as long as I want, without having to worry about how I look, how much money I have, pretending to know the lyrics of the latest Rihanna song, the waiter hovering over my head or having to spend 10 minutes figuring how the fixtures in the washroom work.

One day, I shall open my own roadside café in Islamabad. This well laid out town deserves to be acquainted to the beauty of minimalism, to the hustling bustling tea houses that Pakistan was once full of. I want my city to know the people that we started out as.

Marya Javed

Marya Javed

A financial services officer at a telecom company in Islamabad. She is interested in reading, writing, cooking, travelling and staring in space thinking just about anything.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Amina

    go to chaye khana :/
    or maybe if you got off you elitist horse, you could stop at a dhabaRecommend

  • Nasir

    Dear Marya……

    I am amazed that why u didnt find some desi tea house at Islamabad…….. You just name the sector of islamabad and i can provide you a long list of such DHABAS…… Infact you have mixed both the cities….. you face this problem in karachi……..not in islamabad. There is no comparison of islamabad and karachi….like
    1. In islamabad you have some social life but in karachi you cant even think about it
    2. In islamabad you feel secure but in karachi you dont know whether when you will be back what could be the situation of the city
    3. In islamabad you dont have to worry for drinking water, excessive pollution and last but not the least THE TARGET KILLING.Recommend

  • Nasir

    @Amina: how she can be get out of her elitist horse………… Recommend

  • S.D.

    @NASR

    plzz dont cry……….its ok… i can feel lol :DRecommend

  • Fahad Raza

    Well looks like you were just roaming arround DHA were you ? Anyway you missed Tea house across Paragon Center sea view near UBL. Recommend

  • A.I.C.

    Islamabad: Chaaye Khana
    (take a seat by the windows to get the roadside cum Margallas view !!!)

    Lahore: English Tea House

    Karachi: you are THE expert in that case !!!Recommend

  • White Russian

    Your prejudiced opinion about coffee intrigues me. Originally tea was equally foreign to us (i.e. to our part of subcontinent), fitting into your present description of coffee. It just happens that no one from the times of East India Company is still alive to remind us of this fact.

    Fact is that there is no gora connection with being either coffee (or tea) lover. Our neighbours: China, Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia have been drinking tea for centuries but we needed British to discover it next door. Similarly, coffee-houses have their origin in regions like Iran, Middle-East, Turkey, North Africa, till European colonists took this practice to their native lands. Did you know that first Coffee-House in Europe was opened in Vienna and that this was a curious cultural import from Ottomon Turkey?
    I was amazed when I first learnt that word Coffee (Engish), or Kafee (German), or Cafe (French), are derived from arabic/persian/turkish qahva which is the name of cofee in these languages. Similarly word tea is also a variant of our own tchae, or chai the name with which this beverage has been known for centuries in China and Central Asia.

    Be happy, for claim to the rootedness of both these beverages in east is original and stronger than that of goras.Recommend

  • Ms Marium

    You wrote a useless blog just because you couldn’t find a tea house .. lol .. whats wrong with army juniors ? :)))Recommend

  • Tribune Reader

    If you think road side is a real doodh patti place, you havent experienced real
    Chai in Karachi.Recommend

  • Hafsah Sarfraz

    Hello! Ever heard of Chaaye Khaana? You can sit there for hours, sip your cup of tea and do your work without anyone judging you! There are tons of places like that and just because all you do when you go out is eat the steak that costs 800, it really doesn’t mean there are lack of places. Comparing Islamabad and Karachi is wrong, every city has its own specialties. My point of writing this is not to criticize your piece of writing though.Recommend

  • parvez

    What was a decided put-off for me at the Roadside Cafe was the shisha on offer, did not go back.Recommend

  • Marya Javed

    I intended to offend and plan to outwit no one. Just want to thank everyone who read this blog and took out the time to comment. Also, want to add a Disclaimer that should’ve been included earlier:

    This article was written before Chaye Khana opened. But the “tea house” I am talking about signifies an ideology, a lifestyle- it isn’t quite so literal.

    I love Islamabad like no other city in the world. This is not an anti-city or anti beverage article. I am not prejudiced against any. This is about appreciating and yearning for diversity. Each city is entitled to its flavour- like each individual to his/her opinion. Recommend

  • Nida S.

    Try Chaye Khana. It’s lovely, albeit a little elitist. The special chai is quite something, and I like the environment.
    If you want to go for something more desi, you could always go to Jungle Spot. Recommend

  • S.M

    Hahaha… I like Isloo but honestly Isloo is a bubble… Agree to it or not… You guys really don’t know what real Pakistani life is…
    Target killings, pollution, water problems, no good roads etc that is us. Pashtuns, Punjabis, ever seen Baluchs or Sindhis we’ve got them all… Isloo kids are just too cute…
    Great article Marya.. Never be shy of being honest.. Recommend

  • SAM

    Marya Javed I feel exactly the way you do. It is a wonderful Op-Ed piece!

    And to all the dissenting people, well guys please be accepting of somebody’s views. The least you could do is appreciate the girl for her opinions. I am dissapointed that I didn’t see a single congratulatory comment that appreciated Marya’s efforts and opinions. Be accepting and encouraging of those of us who actually do speak up, regardless of how trivial a matter it may be.Recommend

  • http://www.economistshan.blogspot.com Shan Saeed

    Marya
    Good effort..But tea at road side in karachi is different, infactpreety good…Chinese tea is different in singapore and in chicago, it fun.Recommend

  • amal

    @Nasir:
    its cuz all the ppl causing these problems are safely tuucked away in Islamabad :P Recommend

  • A

    Great article Maria, and you are right , there is no place in Islamabad like Roadside or T2F or arabian nights etc in Islamabad. Isamabad is atleast 3 times more expensive when it comes to small cafes and daily hangout places – If they match khi standards in terms of the environment, service standards and product offerings. including chai khana which is nearly 300bucks for a cup of tea! For everyone who thinks maria is being an elite, i think its actually the other way round. Great piece of writing. i enjoyed reading it from start to end. Recommend

  • B

    this was boring.Recommend

  • Khalid Farooq

    We need the culture of RELAXING places, wehre one doesn’t have to worry about a “weird crowd” or the noise and pollution or the number of zeros in the bill..
    chaye khaana was a good idea but again to expensive..
    I hate the O and A level crowd who swamp Rendezvous with their “wanna-be-ness”
    we definitely need a nice place to escape off to every now and then..Recommend

  • -Sparkle-

    Whatever!Recommend

  • Waqas Akram

    thanks GOD i read it all..!!Recommend

  • jazib

    @Nasir:

    I have no idea what you are talking about here, no social life in Karachi? Are you serious? Its a city that never sleeps, its as social as social gets in Pakistan. Have you ever been out in Karachi?
    Islamabad had its own share of security mishaps. Also, in any city that harbours more than 18 million people under its belt, a fraction of them will be deviants, just that the fraction multiplied by 18 million then adds to a large number in Karachi’s case.

    3.Target killings mean specifically targeted killings. As you know yourself, you are not a politically significant person, neither you hold a position of extreme wealth and power and as such you won’t be targeted at all.Recommend

  • kanishk

    @White Russian:
    u work in f-5?Recommend

  • Mojo

    Oh God!…I am from karachi but I beg to differ when you say “Women clad in saris or jeans, nobody turns around to stare at them. Nobody has the time”.Are you kidding me? Pakistani men are the same everywhere regardless of the city they are in!
    Secondly, take out your 1.5 million rupeee car and drive down to pindi…you will find everything there!..have you never been to that market where they get killer chai paratha in Islamabad in a real roadside cafe(I think that area is G8)….which is a true roadside cafe and not a burger bachaa hangout just named “roadside cafe”…there are scores of chai places in islamabad…ive been there many times and I have had tea from there myself…I dont know what your talking about girlll!

    Islamabad may be a bubble for some….but its wonderful..depends on who u know and where u go…however Karachi is home and there’s nooooooooooo place like home!:)Recommend

  • http://islamabad Maryam

    go to chai khana….
    or jungle spot may be and enjoy their dhood pati…..be close to nature and relax….

    the thing here is u dont know islamabad that well…..
    there are a million chai spots…!Recommend

  • Qaisar

    @Maryam:
    Yes Maryam you are right there are million chai spot but as you said jungle spot is much better of them i love to sit there with friends,but it is unfortunate with me bcuz now i live in Lahore ahhhhh..your comment took me back in Islamabad…siting on jungle spot in a rainy summer day makes me feel like i am in heaven.Recommend

  • Nasir

    Infact you will find all the Roadside spots for Doodh Patti, a real natural one whereas in karachi you may find these but very artificialRecommend

  • nafisa

    Islamabad: a bubble.
    I Like the comments more than the article!
    Express Tribune Blogs indeed very amusing.Recommend

  • Barrister Afzal Hussain

    @Marya Javed:
    Dear Myra,
    There are bigger issues in our city i.e. drinking water, sub-standard medicines, worsening law and order etc, however; your article reflects appreciation for local cultural, which is indeed a rare quality. Don’t bog down by negative comments. Everyone is entitled to express their views. It is your democratic and legal right to advocate your opinion. I must add that in this age of modernity and civility people should learn to respect opposing views. Keep up the good work. Recommend

  • Wajiha Saeed

    Boy, people get rather touchy about their chai blogs…i thought it was nice, and quite true :) To go to a dhaba and pindi etc. requires one to get off the elitist-high-horse and also the I-dont-want-to-be-sexually-harassed-horse :) Recommend

  • Dianuj Rafaz Nahk

    Whats wrong with you people?Just because there is no electricity around and a whole lot of boredom,doesn’t mean you start taking digs on the Author without even getting her point…She has a valid point that there is no place in isb where a tea costs Recommend

  • Dianuj Rafaz Nahk

    Whats wrong with you people?Just because there is no electricity around and a whole lot of boredom,doesn’t mean you start taking digs at the Author without even getting her point in the first place…She is right in saying that there is no place in isb that serves you tea in a lounge culture.And No,by lounge culture i dont mean a hip place,with sharp looking waiters,immaculately done interiors,the lazy boy Sofas.By lounge i mean just a simple casual place with a few chairs and tables.Maybe with mildly cranky receptionist or a creaky fan ,in nutshell,as long as the tea is good.And as for chaaye khana lovers,personally speaking,i like the place but i do have to check my wallet before i go there…The point is,this city does lack a casual,not very hip or elitist place,where you can sit for as long as you want,slip in to anything u like,read and sip your cup of tea which just cost you 50 ruppees (the extra 20 ruppees are for the biscuits that you gona dip in to the tea and eat while thinking ‘this is the right way to do it’. :DRecommend

  • Zaafir Lone

    Good work Marya!!

    Great observation & well expressed
    I would say you highlighted a potential market for new tea house of your ideology..
    Great work..keep writing want to read more!!
    RegardsRecommend

  • ALI

    wellsaid
    IsLAmabad is Islamabad
    and it is dificult to any Islamabadi to set-el in other cities, Recommend

  • Asif Butt

    @MARYA JAVED

    “My take on Islamabad is that it’s a bubble. It’s a well done pretty bubble alright, but a bubble nevertheless. A bubble some rich politicians and retired bureaucrats have created to shield themselves from the chaos that is Pakistan.”

    Respectable Lady ,

    I admire your courage to express and view . You have put it as simple as you could.

    And about the Tea cafe thing , I know what you meant. And I understood exactly what you have said.

    This is not just an article , but a feeling.

    And a feeling pure at heart…Recommend

  • N

    Roadside cafe is hardly a dhaba to be honest, and you can find more authentic dhabas in isloo if that is the standard you go by. Recommend

  • Aqdus

    @Nida S.:
    I was just about to say Jungle Spot too. Recommend

  • Doodh pathi

    you are spot on Mayra, Roadside cafe is a unique place even in Karachi. Have you seen any other place like that? am sure NO! … most of us spend our days at work in an air conditioned rooms and for a change one can sit out side and have tea in a totally non-pretentious space without thinking about what one is wearing or am i dressed to kill…..
    At the roadside the ambiance and interior decor is ever green…
    its a very simple space …. and its true that roadside has a very eclectic crowd… Bun kebabs are awesome! i wish we had some thing like that in isloo… Mayra please open one…Recommend