At 6:30 in the morning you’d expect the business district of any town to be quiet and sleepy. With the offices yet to open and public yet to trickle in, it is only an appropriate assumption to be made. Until you have seen this little shop in the middle of the capital city of Lucknow, that is.
Hidden among greasy dilapidated shops selling hardware, spare parts, and other random things, Sharma tea stall occupies a corner of a crumbling Victorian building. It is not hard to locate it though — the soaring crowds, dozens of cars, and an army of bikes ensure one never has to look for the shop.
“Pandit Om Prakash Sharma, the man behind this shop, came to Lucknow just after independence and set up a small tea stall in the busy Lalbagh Area. Being right next to the commercial hub helped and soon the shop was doing brisk business. Today, of course this place is famous world over for.” Says Mr Singh, who is a regular here.
Offering for only three things – bun-makkhan, samosa, and tea – the shop is already crowded. The corridor, the street, and the park nearby are bustling with people of all kinds – students, morning walkers, tourists, families, even office goers who come in early just for the tea. Everyone, it seems, wants to begin the day with the Bun-Makkhan, Samosa, and, of course, the tea. We soon join the crowd.
The first batch of Samosa has already run out, and the man – one of the many who have been manning the place for decades – asks if we want just the tea and bun. We decide to wait.
The shop is as basic as you’d expect any teashop to be. One man makes the tea, a couple of others butter the buns. Samosas, we are told, are made somewhere else. About half a dozen high tables account for all the furniture there is, and a red board serves as the menu card. The Samosas, according to the board, are priced at Rs. 12.00 a piece, the bun and butter comes at Rs. 20.00, and the tea is priced as per the cup it is served in – Rs. 10 in a cutting glass, Rs. 15 in a Styrofoam glass, and Rs.20 in a Kulhad. There is Suhal and Mithai too but we see no one eating any. Despite the heat, (it is June now), everyone seems comfortable — some are chatting, some are taking selfies, some showing their guests around. Just then there is a furore. The samosas have come and everyone wants one. Thankfully there are enough, and we get a portion too.
“The stuff here is outstanding. The butter is homemade and slightly sweet; the bun is soft and pillowy, the samosa meanwhile is unlike any other in Lucknow.” I overhear a young man telling another even as he devours their third samosa and 2nd glass of tea.
As I break a piece of the bun, add in a bit of the samosa, and have the first bite with a big gulp of the sweet tea, I know what he means. The green chilli infused samosa, the soft and sweet bun, and the milky tea, indeed make a combination like none other.
This story first appeared in The Hindu.