There are some recipes that are just quite inexplicably amazing, not because of the ingredients or the dish itself per se, but more so because of its heritage. The Goalondo Steamer Chicken, or Boatmen-style Chicken Curry is one such iconic pre-Independence era dish that has its roots deep in India’s history.
Way back, when West and East Bengal were one, travelers would cross the Padma river via steamers, carrying them from Goalondo Ghat (a small town in present-day Bangladesh), to Narayanganj or Chandpur. The travelers would then take a train further to Dhaka; this was in 1871 when Eastern Railways has just started a railway route from Kolkata to Goalondo. It was the boatmen of these steamers, who would cook this very, very rustic Chicken curry, using only a handful of ingredients. The flavour and fragrance of the curry, wafted through the steamer, enticing the passengers as well.
In those days, ‘murgir mangsho’ or chicken, was banned from most Hindu kitchens, while goat meat was a regularity. It is thus believed that this dish, cooked by the Boatmen was most likely a Bengali Muslim delicacy. In a strange turn of events, it is chicken that is eaten widely today, rather than red meat…making this curry a very delectably light and rustic dish indeed!
Now I do not claim to be an expert on the history or origin of this dish, nor do I have much info about it, except what I have come across online. There are some articles by eminent food specialists, and that is where I’ve learnt about most of this.
From Bong Mom’s CookBook: “Aided by literature and imagination, I can imagine the deckhands(also known as Khalasis) preparing their mid-day meal while singing Bhatiyali songs as the steamer plowed down the river. These were men probably from Sylhet or Chittagong, regions famous for their cooks. With sparse ingredients in hand they cooked a chicken and potato curry on the days they could buy dishi murgi or fowls at a bargain price. While they cooked with onion, garlic, mustard oil and lots of red chili ,the fragrance of steaming hot rice and the bubbling curry wafted around the boat, the flavors intensified by the boatmen’s songs, songs of the joys and pains of the mighty river.”
Goalondo Steamer Chicken
- Chicken – 500 gms (I’ve used country chicken)
- Onions – 2 large or 4 small, roughly chopped
- Ginger – 1 inch piece, roughly chopped
- Garlic – 8 to 10 cloves, roughly chopped
- Green chilies – 4 to 5, chopped
- Turmeric powder – 1 tbsp
- Salt to taste
- Mustard oil – 5 to 6 tbsp or about 1/2 cup
- Wash and drain the chicken pieces.
- Roughly chop the onion, garlic and ginger.
- Marinate the chicken with the MO, turmeric and chopped g-g, onion and chilies (except the salt) for at least 5 to 6 hours, or up to 12 hours. (If you’re short on time, marinate for 1 hour and refrigerate.)
- Heat a thick-bottomed pan, and tip the marinaded chicken with the masalas into the pot.
- Saute on high for 3 to 5 mins, and then, lower the flame and cover and cook until chicken is tender. (Keep checking, add 1/2 a cup of water if needed)
- Serve with piping hot rice, green chilies, some chopped onions and a few wedges of lime!
- I believe dried shrimp or fish paste (and sometimes fish sauce) is added to this dish. I haven’t added.
- No souring agent like tomatoes, yogurt, lime/lemon, vinegar or tamarind should be added.
- Mustard oil is a must for the dish.
- Traditionally no water is added as the onion juices and the chicken’s own water creates the gravy. However, I added 1/2 a cup of chicken stock.
- Please don’t add cumin, coriander or garam masala powders.
- A few freshly ground red chilies work great, but I skipped it, hence my curry isn’t as red.