Dance for Desi Delicacies

Anand Pillai
Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Who is the inventor of Chicken tikka masala?

Until a few weeks back, I would have laughed at this question as I thought this was a traditional dish eaten for centuries. Recently, I came across the news about the passing away of Chef Ali Ahmed Aslam who is credited with the creation of this dish. Aslam migrated to Scotland from a village outside Lahore and opened the restaurant Shish Mahal in Glasgow in 1964. Since he was a perfectionist and never compromised on quality and standards, the restaurant soon went on to become a popular curry house in that area.

Once, a grumbling customer complained to Ali that the chicken tikka is dry and wanted a sauce along with it. Ali was then recovering from stomach ulcers those days, and since he could not have solid food, he used to stock “Campbell's condensed tomato Soup” for his personal consumption. He opened one can and quickly made gravy by adding spices and thick cream. The customer was overjoyed immensely that he kept returning to the restaurant repeatedly with his friends. Chicken Tikka masala soon went on to become a popular dish.

Likewise, I came to know about the origin of Gobi Manchurian. Which I once thought was an authentic Chinese dish. Gobi in Hindi means cauliflower. The Chinese word for cauliflower should have been there instead of Gobi. This has made me curious. GOOGLE BABA who knows everything under the sun, introduced me to Nelson Wang, owner of the famous China Garden restaurant in Mumbai. Nelson Wang who is born in Calcutta as the son of a Chinese immigrant came to Mumbai in 1974 in search of a job. While working as a cook in the Cricket Club of India, a customer asked him to make a dish that is different from what is available on the menu. Wong started by sautéing ginger, garlic and instead of adding masala, he added soya sauce, and cornstarch to the chicken. The customer liked the dish very much and asked what is the name of it. Wong, whose forefathers hail from the Manchurian region of China, replayed “Chicken Manchurian “, something that flashed to his mind quickly. Hence, Gobi Manchurian is an Indo-Chinese dish, not an authentic Chinese dish.

Chicken 65 is another name for the dish that I found intriguing. I was curious to know the significance of the number '65'. That was 25 years back when I had just joined a leading hotel chain and started my carrier in the food industry. The Internet was then an evolving technology accessible only to the elite. and Google Baba was then a toddler, totally unheard of. I asked several people whom I thought were Pundits in this field. I got several answers such as that Chicken was then costing Rs.65, the chicken used in the cooking was 65 days old, etc.… I was not satisfied with the answers. Finally, Chef Dalapathi gave me the right answer. He said that Chicken 65 was a fast-moving item in Buhari restaurants in Chennai during the Nineteen sixties. It was the 65th item on the menu. The customers who are mostly north Indian soldiers found it hard to pronounce the name Kozhi Varaval and started saying “ Get me the 65th item. That is how Chicken 65 came into being.

“Mango sticky rice “is a tropical dessert dish widely eaten in Thailand. This delicious dessert is a combination of super-ripe mangoes, sticky rice, coconut milk, and sugar. I recently came to know about this due to the famous Thai rapper and singer Danupha Khanatheerakul, better known by her stage name Milli. She got a chance to perform at the acclaimed Coachella Music festival. Flanked by half a dozen male dances on both sides, dancing and at the same time singing the song “Who wants mango sticky rice that is sticky? ”, she ate a bowl of this popular dessert. What followed was that Thai restaurants across the globe saw a surge in the demand for this item. Several people, including the writer of this article, took to Google Baba to learn the recipe. The Thai government immediately sought to capitalize on this trend. The Prime Minister requested UNESCO to list this dish as a cultural heritage item.

That made me ask a question. What will I eat if I am given such a chance? Most countries have their national dish. India doesn’t have one. However, I can think of scores of dishes that qualify for this post. Chicken Chettinadu, Thirunelveli Halwa, Thiruppathi Laddu, Haleem that I had from Hydeabadh, Lal mass from Jaipur, and the list goes on…..

Indian cuisine reflects a 10,000-year history of various groups and cultures interacting with the subcontinent leading to a diversity of flavors and a whole range of regional dishes. Perhaps, I can explore this for the rest of my life and still be left with an unfinished job. However, the rest of the world mostly knows only Butter Chicken, Tandoori Chicken, Butter naan, and Masala Dosa. It's time we put our lesser-known regional dishes effectively into the spotlight.

Does this article kindle a fire in you to explore something desi dishes which the rest of the world will relish one day? If the answer is YES, then the writer has met his primary objective.

Come, hold my hand. Let’s dance for our Desi Delicacies.


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