When we think about a ubiquitous portable snack, we cannot help but visualise skewer-grilled chicken Kebabs stuffed in a roll of crispy, oily, unleavened flatbread or Paratha. The dish, popularly called the Chicken Kathi Roll, is an absolute flavour fantasy and is generally served wrapped in butter paper to prevent the excess oil from seeping out. The origin of this common street food is in the early 20th-century British Calcutta. The credit goes to one restaurant—Nizam’s—in the city's New Market area.
The story goes that the Europeans did not want to eat the delicious charcoal-fired kebabs with bare hands and thus Nizam’s, then only a vending stall, came up with a unique way of stuffing the Kebabs in a Paratha and wrapping the roll in the paper. This also allowed people to carry the roll easily and eat it on the move. Iron skewers were used earlier to roast the marinated chicken cubes on a charcoal fire. However, in the '60s, Nizam's invented the thin bamboo skewers as a cheaper alternative. This lent the dish its name Kathi, which means stick. The Kebabs’ flavour is also believed to be enhanced when prepared with bamboo skewers, giving the meat a charcoal aroma.
Once Nizam’s caught everyone’s interest, other street vendors were quick to adopt the dish and started vending it in the streets of Kolkata. Soon the roll became available to office goers and students who were in search of a snack that would be portable yet delicious. The reason behind the dish’s massive popularity is the entire concept of a wholesome meal that is inexpensive, can be eaten by all and consumed on the go.
With its popularity on a continuous rise, the Kathi Roll ‘rolled’ out beyond borders. The Kolkata Kathi Roll hailing from the early 20th century has become an overseas sensation too, with shops opening up in the US and the UK, where officegoers can be seen lined up in vending stalls to grab their rolls.