Chicken Chaap: Bengal's Love Affair with Awadhi Food

Priyadarshini Nandy  |  Updated: September 08, 2017 16:28 IST

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I have never been a big fan of chicken, unless it’s shredded mercilessly and put in soup, or in a sandwich. However, every now and then, especially if we had unexpected guests at home, the Chicken Chaap would make an appearance. Bought from a local street shop, it would always come in an earthen pot, with a hint of oil almost always sticking to the sides of the pot. That, and roomali roti – standard dinner for guests who come unannounced. Sometimes, there would also be biryani.
It’s odd how you can’t quite enjoy mutton chaap the same way. The flavours just don’t come through.

Traditionally a Mughlai dish, the Chicken Chaap would almost always need a full leg of chicken, which would include the thigh as well. Of course some place cut cost and use only the drumstick piece. 
Bengal's affair with Awadhi food is no secret. When the Nawabs brought in the cuisine around the 18th century, it was bound to become part of the Bengali culture. What's quite interesting to note is that cuisine developed it's own nuances once the nawabs moved their capital to Murshidabad, from Dhaka. Along with many other dishes, the biryani for instance and the chicken chaap became a permanent fixture in the old Muslim-run restaurants that popularised Mughlai food in the city. With a rich gravy that has a distinct texture, the Chicken Chaap can never be too hot, even as chillies are used without much scrimping. A standard recipe of a good Chicken Chaap would require onion, ginger and garlic paste, green chillies, Kashmiri red chilli powder, curd, poppy seeds, melon seeds, grated coconut (yes, this came a surprise to me too), cashew nuts (which thickens the gravy, and adds sweetness), shahi jeera powder, rose water, lime juice, and garam masala powder (freshly grounded), and cooking oil and ghee. Some also prefer to marinate the chicken in a roughly grounded mixture of garam masala for a while before the cooking begins.

Oddly enough, I didn't know there was poppy seed paste and coconut in the dish for the longest time, and I would have never bothered had I not asked one of my neighbours once who ran a small joint for a long time. I don’t think the street side joints add the coconut much though. The idea is to get the texture from it, and not so much the flavour.

One of the most important steps is to make thin slits on the side of the chicken so that it can soak all the marinade, and the masala while it’s cooking. The longer you can keep the marinated chicken, the better. Some even keep it overnight, which I often find unnecessary though. The end result of the process is a complex flavour, and yet extremely easy to like. The meat should ideally fall of the bone, and if the chicken is fresh it’s not a hard thing to achieve. But keep an eye on the dish; you don’t want to overcook it.

In Kolkata, the Chicken Chaap is treated with utmost respect, and surely falls into the category of comfort food, often paired seamlessly with the biryani. However, the roomali roti is my favourite staple.
 
 

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A photo posted by Moumita Chandra Roy (@moumitachandraroy) on


Arsalan at Park Circus is where most South Kolkata go to get their fix of Chicken Chaap, although there have been an odd moment or two where it has lacked in the flavour department. And then there’s Aminia at SN Banerjee Road, most popular for its biryani, but the Chicken Chaap here is also worth making the trip for.

The Dhaba, at Ballygunj, was one of our go-to places for Dal Takda, Roomali Rotis, and Chicken Chaap. Was it the best? Probably not, but that particular combination from this joint worked really well for the family.

Shiraz Golden Restaurant at Park Street is popular for the biryani again, and they also happen to make a good Mutton Chaap, but in all fairness I would still go for chicken here. And then there’s Zeeshan, and while I can never forget the Rezala here, I have also been overfed at the Chicken Chaap at this place. In fact we would always turn up in a large group, and eat like it was going out of fashion, and therefore the combination of biryani and Chicken Chaap was more popular. And despite the film of oil on it (which is pretty much a common feature), one would never judge the fact that this could be quite an unhealthy indulgence. The colour here isn’t as bright red as it is in some of the other places.

I’ve waxed eloquent about the kathi rolls at Nizam’s earlier, but the chaap here too is extremely high on the flavour scale. This is where I like to eat the chaap with a lachchha paratha – decadence I refuse to indulge in more than once a year.

I hear there are plenty of new Mughlai restaurants and eateries in the city that have made the chicken chaap mandatory on the menu. But somehow for me it’s always the older places that I keep going back to. Old habits die hard I suppose.

About the author:

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Priyadarshini Nandy would love to call herself the writer who "divides her time between London and Prague", but being able to call both Bengaluru and Kolkata her home is equally gratifying. As an independent journalist, she writes about food, theatre, travel, and more food, for various publications - new age and old school.

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