Tickled by a Tea Story from Anjum Anand

Even the smartest marketing minds sometimes can’t predict human behaviour.

Tea being prepared in a village family home in Rajasthan, India. Photo by ILRI/Mann flickr.

I came across the following story about the introduction of tea to India from a new cookbook by British-Indian author and TV personality Anjum Anand. (You know I’m a big tea fan, correct?)

Tea of course, has been an integral part of India’s culture as much as it is Britain’s (British colonial rule lasted a century from the mid 1800s). Except when I think of Indian tea I think of heady, spicy flavours, cow’s milk or even condensed milk. Yum. But how did India come to embrace a brew so wholeheartedly and was it what its first importers intended?

According to Anjum’s book I Love India, the British were importing tea from China but this became difficult when the two countries started engaging in a trade war. So Britain decided to start growing tea in India and soon realised that they were on the doorstep of a massive market of non-tea drinkers. “(They) planned a strategy to introduce them to this humble leaf. Salesmen went from house to house with a lovely teapot and cups, teaching Indians how to brew and drink tea. The East India Company weren’t one of the richest companies in the world for no reason; they knew how to mount a campaign and soon, Indians were converted to drinking tea.” (p151 I Love India, Anjum Anand)

Published with permission from Hardie Grant.

So far so good. And then the unthinkable happened. Instead of brewing tea the way they were shown, and buying appropriate teapots for the job, the Indians chucked the tea into a pan “with some milk, ginger and spices and brewed what we know today as chai, or spiced tea…much to the despair of the British”.  So no sale for those delicate British teapots and cups, and the rest was tea history.

Surprisingly, Anjum says tea drinking is becoming unfashionable in India. A quick online search reveals the growing popularity of coffee in urban parts of India is to blame. But there are also plenty of tea shops fighting back.

The tea story in Anjum’s book is but one of several anecdotes on food and family stories from her country of origin. If you love cookbooks, stories and culture, you’ll love this one. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Anjum for Radio Australia and Travel Writers Radio and she’s clearly passionate about educating us on Indian food and its preparation. Also just a tip: she might not want to be called the Indian Nigella Lawson as she’s widely known. She promotes Indian food as healthy while Nigella features Deep Fried Mars Bars as one of her recipes.

Regardless, here’s one of the recipes from I Love India you may enjoy making. Extract from p142:

Andhra Green Chilli Chicken 65

Photo by Martin Poole. Published with permission from Hardie Grant.

This has a fair amount of heat, but the flavour is so good and the chicken so soft that you can’t stop eating! My mother’s friend used to make something similar with chicken on the bone and I just couldn’t stop eating even as it made me sniff and tear up; it was that good. No one knows why it is called chicken 65, as the origins of the recipe are really blurry, but it is a well-known and much loved dish in Andhra. There are a couple of versions – one with a sweet chilli sauce added to it and others with a vibrant red food colour. I leave both out, but sometimes add some Kashmiri chilli powder to the marinade, which has a lovely colour but only mild heat. Serves 3

For the marinade

4 large garlic cloves, finely grated
10g (2 tsp) finely grated root ginger (peeled weight)
1 tsp ground cumin
1⁄3 tsp Kashmiri chilli (chili) powder (optional, see introduction above)
1⁄4 tsp ground turmeric
11⁄2 tsp ground coriander
4 tsp lemon juice
40g (3 tbsp) plain yogurt
2⁄3 tsp salt

For the chicken

2 chicken breasts, cut into 2cm (3⁄4in) pieces
1 egg
2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
vegetable oil, as needed
25 fresh curry leaves
20g (11⁄2 tbsp) finely chopped root ginger (peeled weight)
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
3–6 Indian green finger chillies (chiles), to taste, 1 finely chopped, 2–5 just pierced with a knife
good grinding of freshly ground black pepper
lemon wedges, to serve

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together in a large bowl. Taste, adjust the salt and add the chicken. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, but longer in the fridge would be better (return to room temperature before cooking).

Beat the egg and cornflour into the chicken and marinade.

In a deep, wide pan over a high heat, heat about 5cm (2in) vegetable oil. Once it is hot enough to fry with, add one-third of the chicken; it should sizzle as soon as it hits the hot oil. Cook over a high heat for 3 minutes, turning once, or until the chicken is deeply golden on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper to blot off the excess oil. Repeat to cook all the chicken.

Pour the oil through a sieve into a small bowl. Return 2½ tbsp back to the pan and heat through. Add the curry leaves and cook for 20 seconds or until they are crisp. Add the ginger, garlic, green chillies and a good pinch of salt and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the chicken and black pepper and stir-fry over a high heat for another 30 seconds to bring the whole thing together.

Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Extract published with permission from I Love India by Anjum Anand (Hardie Grant Books). Photographer: ©Martin Poole

One Reply to “Tickled by a Tea Story from Anjum Anand”

  1. Yes! Finally someone writes about HALVA.

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