The humble chicken curry is an Indian staple. It is also one of our most dynamic creations, wouldn’t you say? Taking on different forms in various parts of the country, it is a guarantee that no two Indian chicken curries will ever taste the same. In all its likelihood, if you have never given its inception a second thought, we’re here to shine some light on how it made its way into our culture, and also managed to stay here for years!
A simple, rustic chicken curry made by boatmen ferrying people across the Padma river has gone down in culinary history as an iconic heritage dish. The famed Goalondo Chicken Curry emerged in the era of colonial changes to the subcontinent’s transportation system, it reflects certain cultural influences of undivided Bengal.
Goalondo is a small station at the confluence of river Padma and Brahmaputra, through which people in the 19th century used to ply through to Burma, Assam, parts of East Bengal and present-day Bangladesh. It became an important strategic point in the waterways of the region. Though not functional anymore, the dish cooked by Muslim boatmen for the passengers of the overnight journey has remained in the consciousness of people and has since gained considerable popularity.
The memory of the dish is passed on by those who took the journey, such as this particular blogger’s grandmother who reminisces about trying the curry on her way to northern Bangladesh from Rangoon in Burma. But unfortunately, until a few years ago, no proper recipe of the curry was known and there was skepticism about whether the dish could be replicated.
This changed when Pritha Sen, the co-founder of Mustard and a food history connoisseur, put in almost three years to research and preserve the curry’s recipe. She also found other iconic dishes cooked on the steamer such as Khoi er Bora and Maachher Dompokto.
She found references of the dish in many records, she tells the Times of India, “I trawled through realms of historical data and found mention of it everywhere — in the Bengal Gazette, Imperial Gazetteer, in old journals of tea planters and forest rangers, in documents related to the erstwhile Imperial Railways and the Joint Steamer Company, and of course, Bengali Literature.” Sen went on to hold a pop-up in 2014 themed around dishes eaten along the steamer’s route and included Burmese and Khasi dishes as well.
The slow cooked- chicken dish is often described as a spicy red curry with oil on top, sometimes cooked with potatoes and eggs as well. It was cooked with whatever spices were stocked in the boat’s pantry, such as garlic, ginger, chilies, and mustard oil. The recipe for it is available on various sources online, and cooking it seems to make for a leisurely Sunday activity that is followed by enjoying a flavourful dish.
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