Tea Kadai along Lebuh Queen in Penang is made out of true Malaysia dreams—from the original teh tarik to many other fancy renditions of it. And it doesn’t just stop there. Here’s how I discovered my culinary homecoming at Tea Kadai the moment I saw kolkattai in the menu. And no, it has nothing to do with Calcutta.
Tea Kadai may be the new kid on the block but quickly became an overnight social media star for its fascinating take on the tea time menu. Kadai means, shop or kiosk in Tamil, and the people behind Tea Kadai made it a point to celebrate their roots as Indian-Muslims through their food offerings.
Contrary to popular belief, Indian Muslims, particularly the Tamil Muslims are a community on their own. This dates back to Muslim immigrants coming to Malaya from South India back in those days as traders and then went on venturing into other businesses, particularly food businesses which gave way into the introduction of Nasi Kandar and the likes. Drawing inspiration from these roots, Tea Kadai serves interesting tea-time specials which quickly became favorites for both locals as well as tourists.
When we sat down with co-owner Mohamed Rizwan, I couldn’t help but ask, “What made you introduce traditional sweet snacks like kolkattai?”
“How often do we (our families) even make sweet kolkattai anymore at home? I can’t speak for everyone, but I am aware that majority of Indian Muslim snacks would only make appearances during the festive season and it is unfortunate. Also to my surprise, not many even know half of the snacks we grew up with. Tea Kadai was a perfect excuse for me to introduce some of our childhood favourites to the rest and so far it has been a hit,” says Rizwan, with a laugh.
In case you are still wondering, kolkattai is a sweet dumpling, essentially made out of rice flour, lentils, coconut sugar and desiccated coconut, seasoned with the sweet notes of cardamom. At Tea Kadai, they are served with a twist of chocolate and it is truly a treat. For someone who grew up munching on these, I loved the chocolate-hit and frankly, you just can’t stop at one.
Also, what makes the tea special at Tea Kadai?
“Our tea is special because we use fresh cow’s milk and tea specially imported from India. I took it upon myself to explore India in my research prior to opening Tea Kadai, where I learnt many things. Firstly, we serve our teas in special glasses, which looks slightly bigger than a shot glass because it is deemed the perfect amount per sitting. Our teas are rich—any more than this amount would be overwhelming,” says Rizwan as he picks up the visibly smaller tea glass and compares it to a regular glass.
Apart from original flavours, Tea Kadai is a master of introducing new flavours to the usual conventions. Tea Vanilla is a popular order and it goes down really well even with Western tourists. According to Rizwan, these tourists become regulars over the period of their stay and it is all because the originality of Tea Kadai which sets it apart from any other cafes.
“Aside from the quirky names to our dishes like Bangwich and Pati Roll, we make it a point to also stress on healthy ingredients too. As mentioned earlier, we exclusively use fresh milk for our beverages, without any addition of condensed milk. Also, the kolkattai are steamed and it also consists of nutritious ingredients,” Rizwan explains.
Just a nook but filled with tales, Tea Kadai is here to stay for a long time. Not only for the authenticity in flavours, but also because Tea Kadai beams with pride of the Indian Muslim roots as the people behind it excelled in signifying it as a small token for their forgotten history as Indian Muslims.
The next time you’re in Little India, Penang, do not miss the chance to swing by this joint for a tea and a tale. In case you missed out on our recent Penang food trail, check here for a good time.
For more information on Tea Kadai and more, check out below.
68, Lebuh Queen,
10200 George Town,
Opening hours: 10.30am to 10.30 pm
All images are by UPPRE unless mentioned otherwise.