Long Live Upaar Wali Chai

Recently I’ve started to wonder if the Brits left behind more than railways when they quit India in 1947. It started with a meal we had in the Kullu Valley last summer which began with the Himalayan cousin of Arbroath Smokies and ended with a dessert called ‘Say Hello to the Queen’.

Since then I’ve discovered jam-making in Kashmir, something suspiciously like Scots ‘tablet’ in Kalimpong and a hotel in Darjeeling where, according to writer Jan Morris, the porridge is ‘unsurpassed in Scotland’.

This week I’ve been in contact with a delightful Anglo-Indian lady called Bridget Kumar in Bangalore and my conversations with her have led me to believe there is a corner of former Empire that will be forever ‘uppar wali chai’ (High Tea) – in fact yesterday she sent me her recipe for Mince and Tatties, Treacle Sponge and Shortbread! I’m now eagerly awaiting a delivery of the five books Bridget has written on the subject.


I also confess to my own shameful, Memsahib-like attempts to foist Scottish food traditions on unsuspecting locals. On holiday in the hills last year, we urged the cook at a local restaurant to expand his pakora repertoire. Now if you visit the Hotel Ragini in the village of Naggar, you might find something suspiciously like a deep fried mars bar.

We tend to think the influence is one-way, that Brits can’t get enough Chicken Tikka Masala but that no self-respecting Indian would be caught dead eating our peely-wally fare. Initial findings indicate there may be a huge Scottish/British culinary legacy. As my new best friend in Bangalore says, there is a whole community here which believes in a ‘more judicial use of seasoning.’


7 thoughts on “Long Live Upaar Wali Chai

  1. What is this tablet-like confection you found in Kalimpong? I’m a fan of Scottish tablet, and of properly made fudge (must taste more of concentrated milk than of sugar).

  2. Hi Dabbleer
    Thanks for your comment – what they make in Kalimpong is a type of fudge – they put it on sticks and call it ‘Lollipops’ Tastes great – the only disappointment for me was that it was introduced to the area by a Swiss man not a Scot!

  3. Thanks for the response, Pamela. Is the Kalimpong confection made from reduced milk? What is the recipe? The introduction of it by someone Swiss is curious. Is there a sweet in Switzerland that’s similar to fudge? Indian reduced-milk sweets are, of course, close relatives of tablet and it’s of interest to me whether what you saw in Kalimpong is more Swiss in origin, or more Scottish (even if introduced by a Swissman), or has local roots.

    (Somewhat OT, is there a mailorder source for good, dense tablet that you know of?)

  4. Rumors tell that “Hello to the Queen” is actually Israeli. While it does not exist in Israel, it does look like something that stoned, young, post army guys will invent while having the munchies. In Hebrew, “Hello to the Queen” (Shalom la Malka) refers to Saturday (Shabat) which is a holy day, Shabat the Queen.

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