Hence, whenever a new chai dhaba opens up in our vicinity, we’re usually the first ones to check it out. In recent months, there has been an upsurge of chai dhabas at various locations in Karachi’s Defence area. This review will focus on Chai Shai and Chai Wala, two of the chai dhabas that have popped up side-by-side in the locality known as Chota Bukhari.
What distinguishes these two places from other chai dhabas is their target audience. Most chai dhabas cater to an almost universal audience, ranging from beggars to the wealthy waderay ka beta due to their extremely affordable prices (a modest Rs. 20-25 per cup). Contrarily, these two dhabas cater to a more specific clientele, as their Doodh pati costs around Rs. 60, and their Karak chai costs a whopping Rs. 150 per cup. The idea behind this is probably to target a family-oriented audience, and the formula seems to be working quite successfully. As I entered the place and observed my surroundings, I saw drones of families hurdled together in groups as they enjoyed their tea with scrumptious nutella-filled parathas. Indeed, given the scarcity of public spaces in Karachi, as well as growing security concerns, these chai dhabas attempt to fill the vacuum by providing a secure public place for families to relax and unwind. They are also among the few chai dhabas in the city where women can sit outside without feeling uncomfortable or being harassed. Unlike most chai dhabas, which are usually dominated by the male segment of the population, the demographics of this place consist mostly of families.
Chai Shai is the new kid on the block, which offers a Lollywood-inspired theme as its setting. Chai Wala, on the other hand, offers a truck art-inspired setting as its background.
These two dhabas differ in several aspects. However, in retrospect, I had a similar experience with both. Both of these places cater to the more affluent class in our society, as they have carved their own niche from the typical “dhaba” experience by imposing barriers on entry through their high prices, offering a ‘cultural’ setting to set up the ambience of the place and having a diverse menu which not only offers chai but various types of beverages, parathas, and even milkshakes.
For a “launda” like me, though, I would prefer having my Rs. 25 cup of tea from the chai dhaba near my house, since its low-profile and intimate setting satisfies the introvert in me. However, the two dhabas at Chota Bokhari are recommended for people who are willing to pay a higher price for a family-friendly public space where they can sit comfortably and converse with one another over delicious warm chai.
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