This Chicken Curry Traces A Culinary Legacy Of Undivided Bengal
Image Credit: Shutterstock, Steamer Chicken Curry

It was the era of pre-Independence. The present-day India and Pakistan were one unified territory, and so were India and Bangladesh. Referred to as East Bengal for the longest time, the railway tracks provided a convenient mode of transportation to and from Kolkata, Assam and other parts of present-day Bangladesh like Dhaka. It was the Goalondo Ghat which became an epicentre of lucrative trade and travel. The rail line was laid down at the connecting points of river Padma and Brahmaputra in the late 19th century. The humble Goalondo port wasn’t aware at that time that its strategic location for passengers and mail boats would give way to a historic chicken curry.  

Today, when we think of Bengal, our thoughts are bound to wander in the sea and catch the fish, which is cooked as a nice Bengali curry in the afternoons. The fish curry and rice combination, also known as macch bhaat is a staple food of the region. If there is anything else it is known for, it has to be the decadent sweet meats like sandesh, rasgulla and many more. Have you ever heard someone mention a chicken curry in this regard before? Well, maybe because it is still hidden in the small pockets of undivided Bengal. 

The Steamer Chicken Curry With A Side Of Rice  

Read the above line again. This was the staple meal of passengers travelling via Goalondo in ferries. The meeting point for the rivers was also a point of contact for the travellers moving between Kolkata and Dhaka in those days. After a train journey till the central point, a steamer or ferry would carry the passengers to the other side of the coast at Narayanganj, from where they would take a train to reach their final destination.  

During the course of this small, mid-route path in a steamer boat, the boatmen would prepare their food along the way. Using makeshift kitchens, they would make use of whatever was available in their pantry and cook up a hearty meal of curry and rice. The aroma of this chicken curry used to fill the entire ferry and after a point, started captivating the passengers’ sense of smell. The boatmen, who were largely Muslims, received requests for sharing their food with fellow passengers on the boat and in no time, the chicken curry and rice started selling like hotcakes. We don’t think we need to elaborate how the dish came to be known as steamer chicken curry or sometimes even Goalondo chicken curry.  

To date, several food historians and connoisseurs haven’t been able to decode the recipe of this chicken curry that was prepared by the boatmen. It is believed that it was rustic and simple preparation of ginger, garlic and red chillies. The iconic feature of identification that seems to be common in all the curry preparations that tried to match to that taste involve a “fiery, thin, red curry with oil floating on top”, as highlighted by noted food historian Pritha Sen to Outlook India.  

With all the permutations and combinations being tried to attain the original flavour of the delicious, steamer chicken curry, we’ve got one too that you can try at home.