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Have you ever read something in a book, long time ago, that has sauntered romantically in your brain without making a conscious appearance? Like, an unhealthy attraction to arrogant men, no thank you, Mr. Darcy? Or a curiosity towards a brass urn that self-boils and constantly brews sweet, sweet tea. O boy, the magic of books! So, when an unsuspecting teenager read Gorky’s “The Mother”, who knew an unknown word, the samovar, would lurk unseen in her brain for so many years. As per my Oxford Pocket Dictionary, samovar is ‘a highly decorated tea urn used in Russia’. I remember trying to visualize the thing as a decorated kettle, warm and brewing, but eventually, put it out of my mind. Or so I thought. Years later, I came across my suppressed vision from many years ago, the real thing in the flesh- the Samovar of Ladakh!
Also read: A Travelogue of the Glorious Leh-Ladakh
The History of Samovar
The thing was sitting lazily at the corner of a restaurant. I was fascinated by the unique structure and took a picture without recognizing my little romance from Gorky’s pages. Later, Google revealed it to be a samovar!
So here’s what a nerd does when a vision presents itself – research. The Mongolian’s were nomadic traders carrying charcoal cookers (hot pots) around Asia and East Europe a couple of centuries ago. The Russians saw the cookers boiling meat and thought, “Let’s make this contraption prettier and brew divine, sweet tea in this”. Or something like that. A big, fat factory started in Tula that went on to become the center of the art of Samovar making in Russia.
Then, our hero started its journey. It became an integral part of the culture of Russia and traveled far. All the way to Alaska even. To this day you can buy one on eBay for $30 (for the cheap imitation) and $500 (for the real antique thing). Now, a simple coffee machine will never do for me!
The Russians made the contraption but the tea leaves they needed to boil in it came from the Chinese. The samovar must have exchanged hands at this point. Because I met the beautiful piece in Ladakh made by Buddhist artists, not Russians.
The Brew in the Samovar of Ladakh: Kahwa
In Ladakh, you are offered tea right after lunch, almost in all restaurants. My cup of tea was prepared in less than 2 minutes. The samovar apparently keeps on brewing the tea throughout the day.The restaurant owner proudly mentioned that this is the much famed Kahwa tea that we read about while researching Ladakhi delicacies. Kahwa chai is made by boiling green tea leaves along with cinnamon bark, cardamom pods, and some other spices. At times, crushed nuts like almonds or walnuts are added to it. Our servings, however, did not contain any. The tea was nothing like the Bengali variant my senses are used to, so I was a bit disappointed. My non-tea addict partner, on the other hand, was delighted. He found Kahwa chai to be so appealing that he drank two cups straight.
Back home, I decided to give it a try. A quick internet search revealed the likes of Sanjeev Kapoor and Tarla Dalal giving out their recipes of Kahwa chai. Boiling the spices and adding them to green tea seemed easy. However, it just wasn’t the same.
I wondered what I missed – was it the grand landscape of Ladakh? The barren mountains and the rough terrains? The Ladakhi people and their warmth? Or was it just the samovar?
Do you own a samovar or have some pics of one? Please comment or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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