Chicken Dak Bungalow- from the erstwhile British Raj in India

Recipe no: 3 from my #regionalkitchensofindia series

One of the most mystifying dishes from eastern India, chicken dak bungalow is a colonial recipe developed during the British era in India.

I first tasted this legendary chicken curry at a famous Bengali restaurant Bhojohori Manna back in my teens. Since then I have been quite fascinated by this unpretentious yet wholesome dish made with meat (mutton/ chicken), eggs, potatoes and freshly ground spices!

Dak = Post

Dakbangla or Dak Bungalows were government owned rest houses for the sahibs (British administrative officials) who were traveling for work and needed a place to spend the night. These bungalows were situated mostly along the postal routes in very remote areas and hence the name ‘Dak‘ bungalow.

Source: Wikipedia

Often the officers would arrive late at night or without any notice and the guest house caretakers/ khansamas (cook) had to prepare dinner within their modest means and with what was available locally or could be procured quickly.

There was nothing fancy about the curry but it was delicious and comforting, just what the tired and weary souls of the traveling British officials would be craving.

The dish was mostly prepared with fowl because it was cheap and readily available or maybe mutton sometimes if the budget permitted (or when a goat was hunted on a hunting trip by the guest). Basic spices from the pantry were used which were freshly grounded, some green chilies and potatoes (eggs were added much later) resulted in a mildly spiced curry that was simple and mouthwatering.

There are many resources online with different variations of the recipe, but unfortunately there is no one single authentic recipe of this glorious dish because each dak bungalow prepared this curry based on the availability of resources, time, guest requests and most importantly the skills and whims of the cooks who would sometimes skip an ingredient or add a new spice!

Sadly, due to lack of documentation, most of the dak bungalow recipes are now lost. Whatever little we have today are retrieved from the families of the skilled khansamas and caretakers.

An absolute must have with some hot steaming white rice, if you want to time travel and relish the flavours of yesteryears 🙂

Ingredients:

300 g chicken (bone-in)

4 medium potatoes, halved

2 hard boiled eggs

For the chicken marinade:

3 tbsp yogurt

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red chilli powder (I used Kashmiri red chilli powder because it has no heat and gives a brilliant colour)

1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp coriander powder

1 tbsp mustard oil

For the gravy:

3-4 tbsp mustard oil

1/2 tsp sugar

1 large bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

3-4 green cardamom

1 dried red chilli

1 medium onion roughly chopped

1 heaped tbsp grated ginger and garlic

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red chilli powder

1/2 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp cumin powder

Salt to taste

2 whole green chilies

1 large cup warm water

Method:

Marinate the chicken with the ingredients listed under marinade in a bowl. Sprinkle some salt and turmeric powder on the potatoes and the boiled eggs. Poke some holes in the eggs so that they don’t splutter in hot oil while frying.

Heat a wok/ kadhai with mustard oil and fry the potatoes followed by the boiled eggs for 4-5 minutes each. In the same wok, add the whole spices like bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamom, dried red chilli and some sugar. Sugar helps in caramelising the gravy and lends a beautiful colour.

Now add the chopped onion and fry until golden brown on medium heat. Throw in the grated ginger and garlic and mix well for a couple of minutes until the raw smell disappears.

In a bowl, add the dry spice powders like turmeric, cumin, coriander, red chilli and salt. Mix with little water to form a paste and add it in the wok. Stir fry well for 5 minutes on medium heat.

This is the time to add the chicken to the gravy. Mix everything well and cook on medium heat for 7-8 minutes or until the oil separates. Cover the pan and cook for another 3-4 minutes on low heat. Now throw in the potato and add a cup of warm water and let it come to a boil.

Cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes on low heat. Now add the eggs, whole green chilies and adjust the salt/ sugar. Cover and cook for the last 5 minutes or until the chicken is absolutely tender and the gravy looks perfectly done.

Garnish with some chopped fresh coriander and serve hot.