Chai Karak: The Politics of Tea and its Impact on the Status of South Asians in the United Arab Emirates
Chai karak is a popular tea beverage in in the UAE and the other Arab Gulf states that is widely consumed across class and ethnic lines, particularly among wealthy UAE citizens and the poorer South Asian manual labourers who make up a large proportion of the country's population - also often thought of as the group that brought the beverage to the UAE. This study primarily aims to investigate how Emirati claims of ownership over chai karak have impacted the status of South Asians in the UAE. This examination entailed a series of interviews with chai karak vendors in Dubai that explored the item's position with regards to three main research areas. These areas relate to the social discourses that have emerged from Emirati claims of ownership over the chai karak and how they have impacted the social status of South Asians who work with it as well as how the discourse around chai karak reflects wider trends within the UAE's social relations. The interviews were conducted in the context of a theoretical framework that included the work of food anthropologists, such as Fischler and Falk, as well as scholars of food politics in the Middle East, such as those who have focused on the Israeli appropriation of Palestinian dishes. This study argues that the discourses of cultural appropriation and exploitation that emerge from the study of the history of chai karak are indicative of the commodification of the South Asians' presence in the UAE, since they exist as service providers of cultural objects that feed into the local culture. This discourse reflects wider trends in social relations in the UAE because it connects the social power of ethnic communities to market forces, creating a form of consent-based hegemony that acts alongside other mechanisms of maintaining privilege in the country.