The Chai Shop
It was a door I’d wanted to pop my head around for a while, so I did just that on my recent visit to Bishops Castle. Tahira looked up from her cooking pot and towards me standing in the doorway and said, come in and have a seat; we are just discussing art. Well, how could I refuse?
It’s a small intimate place; people are seated far enough apart to keep themselves to themselves or close enough to chat and it’s just like being in someones kitchen/diner. The Chai Shop, specialising in traditional home-cooked curries and cakes, is located on the High Street in Bishops Castle.
Bishops Castle (BC) is a smallish, ancient market town in the southwest of Shropshire and about a 20-minute drive from my house in Little Stretton. BC is also about 1 mile away from the Welsh border. I adore the place and visit often. It is built on a very steep hill and surrounded by beautiful countryside views, and is home to many artists, potters, authors, poets and musicians. It’s full of independent shops and cafes, with lots of fairs and festivals throughout the year and has five pubs and worth a visit if you are in the area!
The town is packed to the brim with creativity and brightly painted doors. I’m attracted to a door! So every time I go, I find another to photograph.
The first thing that struck me when I entered the Chai Shop was the scent of curry cooking, which is possibly one of the most fabulous kitchen smells ever. My taste buds were standing to attention. The intense aromatic flavours filled the four walls and, for one moment, took my attention away from the piece of cake I had envisioned that I would have with a coffee. But then I spotted my favourite lemon drizzle, and I was back on track. After all, it was 3.30 in the afternoon – afternoon tea time, not curry for dinner time.
The cook and owner, Tahira, wore an apron splattered with spices, turmeric, the golden spice of India and a red from the chilli powder, which matched her spicy stripy top of warm colours. She had a friendly spirit and generous way about her from the moment I met her. She asked me how I would like my coffee and then continued a conversation with a man sitting at the following table,
‘It was like a sort of abstract tree with lights on it. She’s asked me to do another. ‘God, I’m good, she said, ‘but I can’t remember every painting that I’ve ever had commissioned’. It was here that I got involved with the conversation and asked if the paintings on the wall were hers. They were, and she informed me about an exhibition she was soon going to have at the town hall. So I popped the date in my diary. The paintings were mainly flowers and fauna, beautiful, cheerful colours reflecting Tahira’s personality. The gentleman she talked to wasn’t a local; he came from Shrewsbury every week for his Bishop Castle and curry fix.
My cake and coffee arrived just as a gorgeous looking woman came in and sat down. Earthy in her appearance, some might say hippy-like. She was very comfortable in the space and asked Tahira if she could do her a plate of ‘bits’. The plate of bits looked delicious, and again I wondered why I was tucking into Lemon drizzle cake, although it was heavenly – light with just the right amount of lemon. She also joined in the conversation, and I learned that she was a massage therapist and had lived in the area for about eight years. She knew Tahira from when they worked together in London.
An elderly lady popped her head around the door. ‘Tea or coffee?’ shouted Tahira. ‘Neither’, she replied, ‘I’ve just had one at home and just calling for a chat. She had the most elegant hair—the kind of hair I see on myself in my 70’s. Lots of thick luscious grey locks piled up onto top in a messy bun. Tahira turned to me and said, ‘It’s the people that make this place – come for the food, stay for the company – all are welcome”.
It turned out that the lady with the bun raised Hebridean sheep. “I love them she says, all black with long elegant legs. Later, I googled Hebridean sheep later. She was right about the legs, but I’m not sure about the double horns they can have – quite the site.
Two hours passed before I released the time. Between us, we had discussed many subjects. It’s a comfortable, safe place to speak freely and deeply. All the time Tahira was chatting and serving, she was creating delicious curries from her open kitchen, occasionally handing brown paper bags to others popping in to take her food away. Finally, I couldn’t resist the smells infusing the place any longer and asked if she could make me some food to take home too. So that evening, I sat down at home in front of the TV with a vegetable curry, rice, and bhargies. The chickpea curry stewed in a tomato sauce was creamy and rich. The rice was soft and white—the bhargies in a spiced batter fried to crispy perfection. Next time I will go back and have the curry sat at one of Tahira’s tables because the only way I could perfect the experience was not having to wash up after.