Hyderabadi Chicken 65, a Variant of the Signature South Indian Dish

Perhaps the most popular chicken snack that you find all over South India is Chicken 65. The spicy chicken dish is popular in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, though the recipe differs significantly from place to place.

There are many interesting theories about where Chicken 65 got its name from, and some of them are quite funny too. One story says that the recipe uses chicken which is 65 days old. Another says that 65 chillies were used with a kilo of chicken, and the third talks about the dish being the 65th item on the menu of a Madras eatery. However, Buhari, the popular restaurant on Mount Road, Chennai, which is said to have invented this dish says that the name was due to the fact that the special dish was added to the menu in the year 1965.

The recipe of Chicken 65 differs significantly from place to place. While in Tamil Nadu it is not unusual to prepare the dish using chicken with bones, the Telugu states prefer bite-sized boneless chicken pieces. Even in Hyderabad, there are two recipes for this dish which is popular. The first is the original style, where the boneless chicken pieces are coated with a fiery masala predominantly with pepper, ginger, and garlic. The marinated chicken pieces are fried with the addition of sliced green chillies, curry leaves, chilli powder, and other spices to make the dish. Red colour has become a hallmark of the dish, and some places add an insane amount of it. However, few health-conscious restaurants like Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad have started preparing the 65 without any colour.

The other popular version of the dish is the so-called “Chinese” Chicken 65, where corn flour, Ajinomoto and sometimes even egg are added in the coating of the dish, which often results in a thicker cover. Lemon juice or vinegar are abundantly sprinkled to get a much tangier taste. The popularity of this version is on an upswing, and even many Irani cafes in the city have shifted to this recipe, and list it under their Chinese category on their menu. A few unscrupulous vendors even use chicken skin instead of meat in the dish, as the thick coating hides it all.

Akbar Fast Food next to Mecca Masjid near Charminar is perhaps the most popular place for the original Chicken 65 in the city.  Syed Abdul Hadi, the owner of the 25-year old restaurant recently changed the name of the place to Al-Akbar Fast Food due to many other places taking advantage of their popularity to set up outlets with the same name in the city. The beauty of this deep red coloured boneless chicken is its soft texture and it is enjoyed with Warqi Paratha and a ginger chutney here. However, some people get put off by the deep red colour of the dish. As per Hadi, the ginger gravy was added as a side in the initial days as customers food the dish too dry, and this became extremely popular in a short time as a signature of this place.

Another place which is well-known for its Chicken 65 is Kerala Fast Food, opposite Minerva Complex in Sarojini Devi Road Secunderabad. This kiosk is operating since 1971 and has quite a loyal clientele. The bandi near GPO in Abids is also preferred by many. Apart from these, every nook and corner in Hyderabad one will find a café or kiosk selling this dish.

Among the home chefs of Hyderabad, one of the best Chicken 65 preparations is by Naaz Anjum of Anjum's Kitchen. The dish is not overly spicy and very balanced.

Note: This is an updated version of the article originally published in New Indian Express Hyderabad on 21st October 2017.

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