Chai O’clock in Edinburgh

Although it’s not difficult to find Indian food in here in Edinburgh, getting something that’s both authentic and affordable is a completely different story. Last month I went out for a tasty meal at a local Indian restaurant but was horrified at the prices: £2.15 for ONE tandoori roti? A fiver for a side portion of dal? It was absolute madness. But to be fair, the restaurant was one of the city’s posher ones; the kind with that velvety wallpaper and fancy lampshades, and waiters in waistcoats.

There are cheaper places, though, like 10 to 10 in Delhi, with its embroidered floor cushions, Rajasthani wall hangings and pictures of Aishwarya Rai (before she got too fat, obviously). It’s a nice, cozy place, and the food, chai and lassis are great, but with menus stapled into empty Bollywood DVD cases and ‘Teach Yourself Hindi’ books on the shelves, it’s just a bit too wannabe-desi for its own good. Plus it’s always filled with the kind of people who start every sentence with, ‘When I was backpacking in India…’ Groan.

A tad OTT, maybe

Even the Mosque Kitchen, which used to be one of my absolute favourite places in Edinburgh, has gone downhill in taste and uphill in price. They have an indoor space now, with an espresso machine, and it’s just not the same as when you used to sit outside in the freezing cold at long, folding tables, trying to stop the hungry pigeons flapping off with your naan.

But just when I was starting to lose hope of ever finding a decent place to soothe my India woes, I discovered Bollywood: The Coffee Box, in the vaguely trendy suburb of Bruntsfield. Jai Hind!

Best box in town

It’s probably the closest you’ll get to Indian street eating without forking out for a plane ticket and visa, and right now, in the middle of the Scottish heatwave, there’s nothing better than enjoying your samosas in the sunshine. Nutan (who’s the friendliest woman ever, and is from Delhi!) has turned one of Edinburgh’s defunct blue Police boxes into a tiny kitchen, where she prepares fresh veg and non-veg dishes, snacks like pakoda, and all kinds of coffee. She makes chai too, of course, and we chat in a mixture of Hindi and English as she adds millions of spices to a pot of milk and stirs a pan of sizzling tomatoes with the other hand. The Coffee Box has been going for six months, she says, and has become really popular, even being featured on the local BBC news.

I stay and drink my spicy chai with Nutan, and we talk about Delhi summers, Indian families and learning Hindi. And it reminds me of the culture of street food in India. Over there people don’t grab their takeaway cups and paper-wrapped snacks and eat them as they tear down the street, the way they do here. Food and chai, even water, should be respected, given time, savoured slowly. I learned in Delhi that even the busiest people in the biggest rush still manage to find five minutes to stop and eat or drink a cup of tea. I like that. “Come back soon!” says Nutan, and bursts out laughing.

She makes a mean cup of chai


10 responses to “Chai O’clock in Edinburgh

  1. This post makes me happy.

    Remember that time I grabbed a Filet-o-Fish (complete trash here, btw) and walked to your flat while I ate it? I felt like a crazy woman!

  2. Hi Susanna! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. Love your blog too! And isn’t the Bollywood Coffee Box the most delicious place?
    Your comment came at a perfect time too because I have a friend who is moving from Edinburgh to Delhi (and then to a North Eastern village) on Wednesday! So I hope you don’t mind, I sent her a link to your blog so she could read all about your experiences in Delhi.

    • Hi! Glad you found my blog, and thanks for mentioning it to your friend – hope it helps them with their move to India. Yes, the coffee box is like a little slice of Delhi in Edinburgh. Makes me happy 🙂

  3. Hi Susanna!!! I used to follow your blog on TOI; wasnt regular but whenever I would want to read blogs I would first search for your blog and then see if I wanted to read any other blog. well when I read your last blog it got me to your personal blog and I was over whelmed..You have moved to edinburg with so many vivid memories for life !! cherish them and keep your originality alive through your writing .. cheers!!

  4. Ha! Found you! And as always it was a complete pleasure to read your work. You can’t help but crack a smile at the joyous simplicities you write about Ms. Wickers.

    Keep writing…we can’t stop reading.


  5. The Coffee Box looks like a great find. I hope her prices were reasonable. It is so sad to go to an Indian restaurant, see something that sounds delicious, but not want to pay the ridiculous price for it.

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