OK, I admit: I’m a bit of a chicken. Well, at least I LOVE eating chicken! Wherever I have travelled I have tasted some fantastic poultry dishes, usually fried or grilled, and I must say that I loved every one of them. I am a white meat lover! Kai Yang in Thailand was scrumptious, as was Beggar’s Chicken in Beijing, not to mention to whole host of chicken (ayam) meals in Indonesia, of which ayam penyet was my favourite. In the Middle-East, chicken machboos (kabsa) and chicken shawarma were among my preferred snacks, whereas in Japan and Korea you simply can’t beat deep-fried chicken, known as karaage and yang yeum respectively!
It is in India, however, where perhaps the most famous kind of chicken exists: Tandoori Chicken. Eaten all over the world now, it was created in Punjabi and has always been a speciality of the Mumbai region, and it was there that I discovered its authentic taste for myself – again, and again, and again!
The chicken that you see before your eyes on the streets is marinated in yogurt and seasoned with the spice mixture known as tandoori masala that is considered moderate in North India and Pakistan, but WAY too spicy in most Western nations. Cayenne pepper AND red chili powder is used to give it a fiery red colour. I am told that a higher amount of turmeric produces an orange colour.
Tandoori chicken is traditionally cooked at high temperatures in a tandoor (clay oven), but can also be prepared on a traditional barbecue grill. What I love most about this type of chicken is the fact that it’s cooked in a clay oven. In a way it reminds me of the traditional method of cooking Peking Duck in China, where they hang the duck in the stone ovens. All this adds an element of mystique and adventure to the food!
In India, tandoori cooking was traditionally associated with the Punjabi region and later spread around the whole of India. In rural Punjab, it was common to have communal tandoors. Some villages still have to this day a communal tandoor, but for tourists like me the closest I will ever get to one of these ovens is on the streets – and where better to see this than the capital of Indian street food: Mumbai!
The fame of tandoori chicken led to many derivatives, such as chicken tikka (and eventually the Indian dish popularized in Britain, chicken tikka masala), commonly found in menus in Indian restaurants all over the world. Chicken Tikka is essentially the same as Tandoori Chicken, except the bones have been removed.
Wherever you are in the world, you must try some tandoori chicken. The authentic version cooked in the clay pot (tandoor) is the best type of chicken, especially on the streets of Mumbai where you can actually watch it being cooked before your very eyes!