What’s common between Chicken65 and Gobhi65?
A dish that originated in South India has often found itself being thought of as Chinese
One of the many quaint, oddly named dishes that you can find anywhere in India is Chicken 65. It is said to have originated in Chennai’s Buhari Hotel but the reason behind the figure of 65 in its name is not quite clear. Kurush F Dalal, a culinary anthropologist, thinks that the stories surrounding Chicken 65 are sometimes more interesting than the recipe itself.
Some people believe it was specially made for soldiers in the war of 1965. Others say the chicken is cut into 65 pieces and so the name. Some even believe that the marination period for the chicken is 65 days. Others think that it may have been the 65th dish when it first appeared on the menu. Yet another legend goes that 65 spices from different villages in Tamil Nadu are used for preparing the dish.
Nawaz Buhari, Managing Director of Buhari Hotel, clears the air. His grandfather A.M. Buhari had a tradition of adding new dishes to his hotel’s menu every year. Chicken 65 was added on New Year’s Eve in 1965, which is where it takes its name from. Says he: “My grandfather wanted a crisp name, like the dish itself, so he added 65.” The name soon caught on and the Buharis went on to introduce Chicken 78, 82 and 90 in the years that followed.
However, the credit for making the dish a household name goes to Kaun Banega Crorepati, says Sourish Bhattacharyya, co-founder of the Tasting India Symposium. It was the subject of a question in the first season of KBC, in the year 2000.
There’s a lot that the journey traversed by Chicken 65 says about India itself. According to renowned food critic Pushpesh Pant, it shows that we’re pluralistic people who imbibe and adapt diverse influences. “Our cuisines are a wonderful example of this,” he says. Dalal, on the other hand, thinks it says that there are vibrant people in our culinary space who “routinely invent new dishes to reignite the jaded palates of their customers”. Bhattacharyya agrees. He believes that we not only invent dishes, but also adapt non-vegetarian dishes for the vegetarian palate. Like Chicken Manchurian inspired Gobi Manchurian. Or how Chicken 65 inspired Paneer 65 and Gobi 65.
Buhari also thinks on similar lines as Bhattacharyya. “The number 65 was catchy, and it caught on even with the vegetarian variants.” Ask him what’s special about Buhari’s Chicken 65 though, and he’ll give you a whole laundry list.
The Buharis only use traditional South Indian spices sourced from all across Tamil Nadu. They marinate the chicken for at least six hours, and only cook on copper pots over firewood. All of their chefs are given in-house training to keep with the legacy of the Buhari chain, which has 19 branches all over Chennai.
But while the Buharis keep the recipe of their dish a secret, celebrity chef Ranveer Brar posted a YouTube video where he closely recreated what he had seen being made at the Chennai restaurant. However, he does agree that no one Chicken 65 can taste like another. Everyone uses a different spice mix to add their own flavours.
While the dish is traditionally supposed to be dry-tossed, spicy crispy chicken, a lot of people add gravy to it. Brar adds that some even add ketchup and other sauces.
It’s not just the different hotels or cafes that make changes in the recipe. Quamar Amin, a housewife and cooking enthusiast from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, thinks that the taste of curry leaves in the dish doesn’t work for her so she eschews it while cooking it for her family.
There’s yet another thing that makes Chicken 65 interesting—the deceptive appearance that makes it seem like a Chinese dish. Very few are able to guess its South Indian roots.
It looks like deep-fried, flour-coated Chinese or South-East Asian dishes. The stories and myths regarding the dish might be many, but there is one thing all foodies agree on—Chicken 65 tastes heavenly.
Take 1 chicken (400 gms, cut in cubes), half cup yogurt, 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste, 1 tbsp curry leaves chopped, 1 tbsp black pepper powder, 1 tbsp roasted cumin powder, salt to taste, 2 tbsp red chilli powder (which has food colour in it). Mix everything together and marinate for at least 30 minutes to let the chicken become tender. After the marination, mix 2-3 tbsp rice flour into the marinated chicken. Heat some oil in a pan and deep fry it.
Take 1 tbsp oil, 2 green chillies (cut in julienne), 1 tbsp chopped garlic, 10-12 curry leaves, and 2 tbsp black pepper. Heat all of this in a pan and saute till it gets fragrant. Add the fried chicken into it, and toss.