Serving up chai in a kulhar

The fundamental reason for driving to a certain restaurant in Karama is to get hold of these beautiful, eco-friendly, handmade terracotta vessels called kulhar. Drinking tea there is just an excuse.

Kulhar is a traditional terracotta cup/tumbler—typically unpainted and unglazed—from North India and Pakistan that is meant to be disposable. See, these kulhars are made by firing in a kiln and are almost never reused so they are pretty much sterile and hygienic. There are still several food stalls in the Indian subcontinent that traditionally serve tea (and even lassi, a yummy yogurt-based drink) in kulhars.

The small table at the restaurant quickly fills up with earthen vessels containing piping hot tea, for the eight of us, to be exact. Everyone patiently waits as I line up the cups and prepare to take pictures; they know the drill when I’m around. Afterwards we place all the vessels carefully into a disposable bag for me to take home. “We’ll only drink tea from these cups whenever we visit your place,” my sisters announce. Needless to say, the waiter returns to clean an empty table when we leave the restaurant.

My excitement wanes a bit when I realize, upon reaching home, that I have to wash all these cups! Would they soften and melt if I scrub them with soap and water? I wonder. The first time I washed these cups I was extra cautious, afraid I might break them. But guess what? These cups are tough and durable! I scrub them thoroughly with a light scrubbing pad and they do not complain at all. Oh, and since they’re porous, I learn that these terracotta cups should be washed with warm water and baking soda, not soap.

Masood refuses to drink tea in our regular tea cups since these beauties made their way into our home. I think what he likes best is that the tea is suffused with the earthy aroma from the cups. What I like best is the fact that my earthenware collection is slowly increasing, with each item having a memory and story to tell.

Do you have or use an earthenware in your home?

41 comments

  1. Asalaam o alaikum,
    Beautiful post and picture. I have a casserole which is a fired clay pot from Pampered Chef and it makes delicious chicken for some reason:)

  2. In karachi they have similar porous plates that they use to sell portions of kheer and I must say it tastes amazing. Take the same kheer and put it into another plate and eat it and it tastes different. I saw my bhabhi washing them with just hot water and I asked her why she wasn’t using any liquid and she replied that on these plates u only wash with warm water as it loses it taste. How right she was.

    I have a friend in France who only washes her teapot in hot water and a scourer, she too has always said that this way the tea tastes better always.

    Nice blog you have here… love the way you write too… 🙂
    aneesa bashir recently posted..Moving On

    1. Hello Aneesa! Ah yes, kheer in clay pots. My late chachi jaan almost always served kheer that way and it was so delicious. We always looked forward to eating kheer prepared by her.

      Yes, definitely no soap when washing clay vessels. But I didn’t know about the teapot! Doesn’t the tea eventually leave stain marks if you don’t use soap?

  3. Wonderfully written! I think traditional Egyptians have something like that to drink water out of as it keeps the temperature cool. They’re called Olal. Before fridges Egyptians used to cool their water in these by placing them in a shady area.

    People know the drill with me too buf if they’re really hungry I’m not fast enough!
    Londoneya recently posted..English Tea Garden Party

    1. Thank you, Londoneya!

      Oh yeah, water does remain cool in earthenware. That reminds me: my maternal grandfather refused to drink water from the fridge till the day he died, preferring to drink water that has been kept in a big clay jar instead.

  4. hello, nadia!

    ” they know the drill when I’m around” – they better, huh? 🙂

    “the waiter returns to clean an empty table when we leave the restaurant” – which means less tasks for him, lols!

    “I have to wash all these cups!” – haha, you didn’t think masood would, eh?

    “and they do not complain at all” – well, they know better than to do that, hehe…

    i love the way you poked fun at everybody and at everything in this post. haha, walang nakakaligtas sa ‘yow! 🙂 como estas?
    doon po sa amin recently posted..Easier Invitations Mean More Followers and Blog Contributors

      1. let’s just say na ako ay mahilig magmasid, haha… kokonti rin yata ang nakakaligtas sa ‘kin, lols!

        i have a new site na. i opened it to the public na (mahanap mo kaya? try) . pero, likely, next week, i’ll reopen the old site. nagsawa na yata akong mainis sa mga nagsara, e. haha…

        hope you are well . 🙂

    1. Thank you, Mezba. In Hyderabad, curd is always prepared in earthen vessels too. In fact, Masood’s 80-year-old grandmother suggested that I bring one with me back to the UAE 😀

      I’m not 100% convinced that it tastes different, but it’s certainly more fun eating out of an earthen pot!

  5. Assalamu Alaikum Nadia! My mother absolutely loves earthenware. We had a traditional Kerala Sadya lunch party and she served the curries in dinnerware sized clay pots. Would you be ever so kind to share the name of this restaurant? I’d love a few of these for myself too.

  6. Haha! I just started reading your blog and its fun to read what you share. I love them, Ammi has an entire dinner set of earthen pots and eating from them is fun 😛 esp drinking water as you can smell the sweet sondhi sondhi khusboo of mitti <3 and ofcourse kheer :D. Have u ever tried custard in the old city(somewhere around charminar don't remember the exact place) they serve in mitti k pyaale and thanks to those people now we have almost a dozen of those. 😀
    P.S-I envy you being a karachitte and a Pakistani, JK 🙂

    1. Hijabi, did you say an ENTIRE dinner set?! I am so jealous of your Ammi’s earthen pots! And I can’t believe I haven’t tried Old City’s custard, I must try that on my next trip 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by!

  7. Oh, next time when you visit Hyd, make sure you go to this Shilparamam( I hope this is how it is spelled) exhibition in the hitech city. I’m sure you’ll find the earthen pots ka dinner set there. =)

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