A fried chicken that lives up to the imagination
I don't know about you, but I tend to lose my sense of decorum when I hear the phrase fried chicken. It could be related to all the books that I read as a child, where fried chicken figured prominently whenever a food scene was described at any great length. Or it could be to do with the image of a nice juicy drumstick — coated with thick breadcrumbs and fried a lovely golden brown — that pops up in the mind when anybody mentions fried chicken. In any case, I get all mushy when I think of it — and this despite the fact that I am not much of a chicken lover.
And strangely, every time I get to eat this dish, I am generally disappointed. Some of the big multinational chains sell huge amounts of fried chicken, and whenever I've had a piece from there, I have been overawed by its size, but rather dismayed by its bland flavours. Fried chicken, somehow, tastes better in my imagination than it does in real life.
But last week, I had an encounter with a piece of chicken that had been spiced, rolled in batter and fried crisp — and heaved a sigh of relief. The fried chicken that I had dreamt of did exist, and in the unlikeliest of places. I didn't eat it in a plush restaurant, or in an assembly-line fast food eatery. It was on the roadside, in the Jama Masjid area, one wet evening.
This was in a shop called Haji Mohd Hussain, some 15 shops down the lane from Karim's. Haji's shop has been around for some 36 years. It was earlier in Urdu Bazaar, but moved to Matia Mahal about 14 years go. Usually, people in Jama Masjid have strongly conflicting views when food is discussed. But surprisingly most agree that Haji was the first to sell fried chicken in the area.
The chicken I ate was truly delicious. The crispy exterior was nice and crunchy, and the chicken inside was wonderfully tender — which was an excellent combination. I had thought the wet weather would turn the crispy casing all mushy and soft. I was surprised when I found that a couple of hours after I'd bought the chicken and taken it home, it was still crunchy.
M. Naved, the owner's son (phone no. 98100 98736), tells me that some 12 kinds of spices are used to marinade the chicken which is semi-fried and then kept aside. It's fried again after being coated with ground chickpea batter when customers come, and then cut into small pieces and served. Just before serving, it's sprinkled with a pinch of a special masala. A full chicken is for Rs.240 and a quarter is for Rs.60.
Haji Mohammed Hussain also serves fried fish, which is again marinated and spiced, covered with a batter and deep fried in hot oil. Fried fish is for Rs.300 a kilo.
There's more, but I shall come to that on another day, in another column. Right now, it's time to toast Haji's fried chicken. Fact, I now believe, is tastier than fiction.