As part of my birthday celebration this past weekend, some girlfriends and I signed up for chef Chaya Rao's afternoon Chai Tea class at the Whole Foods Culinary Institute. The price tag ($20) and short time investment (1.5 hours) fit beautifully with our pre-holiday budget. Chaya is from Bangalore, India, the country's third most populous city; it's the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka and known as both "the Garden City of India" for its abundance of green spaces and "the Silicon Valley of India" for its abundance of high-tech industries. It's also a heavily vegetarian region.
I enjoyed learning about the culinary anthropology of India as much as I enjoyed watching Chaya prepare tea and a lovely Indian snack called batada vadas, which are potatoes mixed with cilantro, ginger, turmeric, and serranos, which are formed into small balls then fried in a chickpea-flour batter. Crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, these savory little globes of deliciousness didn't taste oily at all. The lemongrass-and-basil tea we enjoyed first tasted of jasmine and herbs, and the traditional chai—prepared with Darjeeling black tea, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and milk—proved a perfect way to help ring in another year.
To learn more about the Whole Foods Culinary Center, call 512/542-2340; www.wholecateringaustin.com.