MOUTHWATERING MEMORIES - RUSTIC INDIAN CHICKEN CURRY AT A WAYSIDE DHABA IN VIZAG
It’s a cold, damp and depressing evening in the back of beyond place where I now live.. There is an ominous wind, menacing lightening and disturbing thunder, and it starts to rain. Predictably, the lights go off, adding to the gloomy atmosphere.
My spirits plummet and I sit downcast in desolate silence and indulge in forlorn self-commiseration mourning the past (which makes me feel miserable), speculating the future (which causes me anxiety) and ruining my present moment (which makes me melancholic).
Whenever I am in a blue mood, two things are guaranteed to lift my spirits – good food and beautiful women – or even merely thinking about them in my mind’s eye. [In fact, I dread that the day I stop relishing good food, or appreciating beautiful women, for on that day I will know that I have lost the zest for living and I am as good as a dead man!]. As I languish out here in this godforsaken environment bereft of gustatory or visual stimulation (Colaba and Churchgate but distant memories), I close my eyes and seek to simulate my senses (that’s the trick – if you can’t stimulate; then simulate) trying to think interesting thoughts, evoke happy nostalgia, and suddenly a mouthwatering memory rekindles my spirits as I vividly remember the tastiest chicken curry I ever eaten and truly relished long back, almost twenty years ago, sometime in the eighties, at a rustic wayside dhaba on the highway near Visakhapatnam , or Vizag as we knew it.
The ramshackle place was called NSTL Dhaba, why I do not know, and maybe it does not exist now, or may have metamorphosed into the ubiquitous motel-type restaurants one sees on our highways. We reached there well past midnight, well fortified and primed, as one must be when one goes to a dhaba, ordered the chicken curry and watched it being cooked.
Half the joy of enjoying delicious food is in watching it being made – imbibing the aroma and enjoying the sheer pleasure of observing the cooking process. And in this Dhaba the food is made in front of you in the open kitchen which comprises an open air charcoal bhatti with a tandoor and two huge cauldrons embedded and a couple of smaller openings for a frying pan or vessel.
They say that the best way to make a fish curry is to catch the fish fresh and cook it immediately. Similarly, the best way to make a chicken curry is to cut a chicken fresh and cook it immediately with its juices intact. And remember to use country chicken or desi murgi or gavraan kombdi for authentic taste.
And that is what is done here. The chicken is cut after you place the order and the freshly cut, dressed and cleaned desi murgi is thrown whole into the huge cauldron full of luxuriantly thick yummy looking gravy simmering over the slow fire.
How do you cook your Indian Mutton or Chicken curries? Do you fry the meat and then add water and cook it, or do you cook (boil) the meat first and then fry it? Here the chicken will be cooked first in the gravy, on a slow fire, lovingly and unhurriedly, and then stir fried later (tadka).
There are a number of whole chickens floating in the gravy and the cook is keeping an eagle eye on each and every one of them, and from time to time gently nurturing and helping them absorb the flavor and juices of the gravy (As the chickens absorb the gravy they become heavier and acquire an appetizing glaze). Once the cook feels a chicken is ready (30-40 minutes of gentle slow nurtured cooking), he takes out the chicken, chops it up, and throws it into a red-hot wok pan to stir fry basting with boiling oil and then ladles in a generous amount of gravy from the cauldron. When ready the chicken curry is garnished with crisp fried onion strips and coriander and savored with hot tandoori roti. We have a bowl of dal (simmering in the other cauldron) duly “tadkofied” as a side dish. The chicken is delicious and the gravy is magnificent. Ambrosia! We eat to our heart’s content – a well-filled stomach radiates happiness!
I still remember how delightfully flavorsome, tasty and nourishing every morsel was, and just thinking about the lip-smacking rustic chicken curry has made me so ravenously hungry that I’m heading for one of those untried and “untasted” Dhabas in my vicinity to sample their wares.
If I don’t find it anywhere I’m going to try and make this rustic chicken curry at home. And if anyone in Vizag is reading this, do let us know whether the highway dhaba still exists or has it vanished.
Till next time,