The 14th century Makli Necropolis near Thatta, Pakistan. All in
the family . . . Geoffrey Arend II is flanked by
sisters Emily (l) and Flossie Arend (r).
Editor's Note: This story originally
appeared in 2020. We feel it's worth a Summer Fun revisit.
Dear Qatar Airways,
recently had the pleasure of flying business class from Doha to New York
City over the holiday season. There is much to commend about your Qsuites—a
quick google reveals countless flattering reviews of everything from your
lie-flat seats to your capacious bathrooms. I enjoyed both of those features—the
former because I love to sleep and the latter because I am a hapless klutz
and need as much elbow room as can be spared when changing into my pajamas,
which you also graciously provided—but you gave me something I’ve
never had before, and now I’m hopelessly smitten. No, it’s
not your mute, unobtrusive overhead lighting that mimics the passage of
time from day to night, although kudos on that thoughtful touch. I have
my Philips Hue lights to replicate that. No, it’s not your fully
stocked amenities bags, or the little cubbies and footwell provided to
store my things and put my feet up. No, it’s not your wide and generous
selection of movies and television shows. It’s not even your dividers,
which I would relish on nights when my husband is taking up a little too
much of the bed—what I wouldn’t give to throw up a Qsuite
wall and secure my equal space.
No, the thing that won my heart, that had
me pressing the attendant button for more, was your karak chai. Perhaps
I should explain myself.
My trip to Doha didn’t terminate in
Doha. It connected to a flight to Pakistan, where I proceeded to spend
almost three weeks lusting after and being denied chai. It might sound
silly, or simple—you might admonish me to “reach a little
higher, Flossie”—but all I wanted in Pakistan was a delicious
cup of chai. But no matter where I went, chai was metaphorically smacked
out of my hands, and oh, did it burn my very soul. I was scalded by the
Let me explain myself further.
For all of my life, for as long as I can
remember visiting my Pakistani relatives stateside, my favorite thing
has been the tea. Even when I was probably much too young for caffeine,
my Pakistani relatives offered me tea. South Asians love their tea, and
after my first cup, I understood why. It’s black tea, evaporated
milk, and a little sugar, but it tastes like so much more than the sum
of its parts. There’s something in the alchemy of those three ingredients,
some heady, smoky sweetness, that I’m almost certain in coming together
forms an entirely new element. Chai. I’ve tried to replicate it
at home, but it never tastes the same. Maybe there exists a fourth ingredient—family—that
makes it taste a certain way, but that feels overly poetic and frankly
unsatisfying. I think there is a secret and elusive knowledge hidden from
me. Maybe the eternal pursuit is part of it.
Which brings me to chasing chai in Pakistan.
Everywhere we went, my eyes saucered at the prospect of nearby chai. We
took a street tour and I wallowed near the chai counter, surreptitiously
taking video of the chai walla as he roiled a giant vat of creamy chestnut-colored
chai over high heat. I was hypnotized by his practiced efforts, waterfalling
chai from container to container and ladling it into waiting cups. I made
many faces at my mother—I’m sure looking very much like Oliver
Twist—but she always pressed her eyes shut and quickly, subtly shook
her head by the smallest degrees in that universal gesture of ABSOLUTELY
NOT that is so rapid, so subdued as to only be seen by one person, and
but briefly. I wasn’t allowed to have any chai. It didn’t
matter that the water was surely boiled, because what if it wasn’t
boiled enough? What if the milk wasn’t pasteurized? What would happen
to my American constitution (the only American constitution I now heartily
damn!) if I drank this chai made from all these unknown sources, in a
country where I absolutely could not and should not drink the water? I
enjoyed it exactly twice—once, in a restaurant deemed safe and once
again, in the home of a relative where both the source of the water and
the milk was secure. Otherwise, I spent close to three weeks in Pakistan
with no chai.
dear Qatar Airways, when I boarded your flight from Doha to New York City
one of the first things I asked for was your cardamom karak chai. And
then I asked for it again. And again. And your flight attendants, ever
obliging, didn’t balk at my requests, and dutifully brought me chai
after chai. It was the most delicious drink I’ve had in a while.
I was determined to try the saffron karak chai as well but after three
cardamom karak chais and a slight tremor, I realized I couldn’t
manage it. Your business class Qsuites are lovely—truly, the height
of flying anywhere, as far as I can tell—but it was your humble
cup of karak chai that made me happiest. Oh, and the flight attendant
making my bed. I felt like a kid again. What better praise is there?
P.S. Is there a recipe?
P.P.S. Do you bottle your karak chai and if so, can you ship it to New