Kolkata Street Food Inspired Chicken Chow Recipe

Looking back on my growing up years in Calcutta in the 80s & 90s I realise that I grew up eating awesome street food. Of course I did not know it then, nor did I appreciate the easy access to the cheap yet absolutely delicious food that we had as students. Mobile food vans, pedlars with baskets of food, ramshackle food stalls were the norm of the day, not only in and around the busy markets but on most street corners and outside schools and colleges. Much like the ice cream vans that you would encounter outside parks in the UK. Only we had way more on offer than ice creams. We had puchka, jhal muri, aloo kabli, tele bhaja, egg rolls to name just a few.

 Calcutta has a thriving Chinese population since the 18th century and is the birth place of  the fusion Indo Chinese cuisine which became popular all over India post the 90s. In the late 80s mobile food vans started popping up on street corners which were mostly run by Bengali youth who catered to Calcutta's growing fascination with rolls (be it egg, chicken mutton or a combination of two or more ingredients) and the IndoChinese chowmein and chilli chicken. Now this chowmein was nothing like what Calcutta's Chinese population made or ate. This was a bastardisation of the original thing, tailor made to suit the Bengali palate and pocket. This was sold as a quick evening snack. While in the Chinese eateries the Cantonese gravy chowmein, chop suey (with crispy noodles) and mein foo (rice noodles) were popular, these food stalls made a quick Hakka style stir-fried noodles without any gravy. If you wanted gravy you had to splurge and buy a plate of the chilli chicken which was liberally doused with green chillies and fiercely spicy.

For my brother and me this chowmein was a huge treat. However much my mother tried to replicate it at home, we complained that  the homemade version, though nice, never tasted the same as the one served by street food vendors. Thankfully my mother was not one of those overly fussy parents. She was a  great sport and an adventurous foodie herself. She often indulged us, buying us our favourite snacks from the vendors. Once I left home and Calcutta craving for my favourite street foods kicked in. Over the years I have cracked the recipe of several of those dishes. Today I am sharing with you the recipe of my favourite chicken chow. Why do I call this noodle dish chicken chow? Cos that's what the street vendors would call it. Of course there are various versions depending on which vendor you are buying your noodle from. After years of trials I have developed a recipe which suits my palate and preferences perfectly. It's a very easy and forgiving recipe and can be easily be made with just veggies which also happens to be vegan. 

Ingredients for the Chicken Chow
(Feeds two hungry souls for dinner)
1. Egg noodles
2. Two eggs
3. 250/300 grams of boneless chicken thigh
4. One fourth cabbage
5. Half a capsicum
6. One carrot
7. One medium red onion
8. 2 green chillies
9. 2 tablespoons of oil (nowadays I have switched to rapeseed and avocado oil, you can use sunflower or vegetable oil)
10. Two pods of garlic
11. 1 teaspoon of freshly crushed black pepper
12. 2 tablespoon of rice vinegar (Chinese variety)
13. 2 teaspoon of light soy sauce
14. Pinch of salt
15. Ajinomoto/Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), of course no street food style chowmein would be complete without a generous pinch of this white powder. But this ingredient has faced so much controversy that I have stopped using it and trained myself not to miss it in my IndoChinese dishes
16. Green Chilli sauce and Maggie Hot & Sweet Tomato Ketchup for flavouring

There are several steps to this recipe, let's get started

Step I
Finely slice the green chillies and in a glass bowl dip the sliced chillies in 2 tablespoon of rice vinegar. Cover and keep it refrigerated. This step can be done ahead. In fact I always have some green chillies soaking in rice vinegar in my fridge. The longer it soaks the more flavourful it gets.

Step II
Trim the boneless pieces of chicken of any extra fat and give the chicken a good rinse. Pat the pieces dry with a kitchen towel and thinly slice the chicken pieces lengthwise.
Marinate the chicken slices with the following ingredients from the main ingredient list
1. 2 pods of garlic pods, finely diced or mashed using a motor & pestle
2. 2 teaspoon of light soy sauce
3. Generous sprinkle of freshly crushed black pepper
4. 1 teaspoon of the vinegar and green chilli mix
Mix everything well together and keep in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. I prefer to marinate the chicken overnight.

Step III
Finely slice the vegetables ~ cabbage, onion, carrot and capsicum lengthwise into matchstick size and shape and keep in separate piles.

Step IV
Boil the egg noodles according to the instructions at the back of the packet. If the packet says 12 minutes, please boil for 10 minutes, the last bit will be cooked while the noodles is stir-fried. Otherwise the noodles may overcook and get soggy. Strain the noodles and run some cold water through it to drain out the starch and apply half a tablespoon of oil on the wet noodles. Leave the noodles to drain, takes about 5 to 10 minutes. Applying oil to the noodles at this stage stops it from tangling and also sticking to the pan while frying.

Step V
Beat the two eggs with a little salt and black pepper.
Take a Chinese wok or a nonstick frying pan, add half a tablespoon of oil. Heat the oil till it reaches smoking point, reduce the flame and add the eggs. Scramble the eggs and once done keep aside in a bowl.

Step VI
Scrape the pan clean and in the same pan add another tablespoon of oil, heat the oil till it reaches smoking point, reduce the flame and add the marinated pieces of chicken thigh. Flash fry on high heat for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring continuously. Since the chicken has been sliced thinly and it has been marinating for a while it cooks through really fast. It will release a little water, wait till the liquid dries up before draining the chicken in a bowl. Keep the bowl aside. You could use the same bowl in which you had saved your scrambled eggs. 

Step VII
Next it's time to add the last tablespoon of oil and heat as before before reducing the flame. Now it's time to add the sliced veggies. First goes the cabbage along with a pinch of salt. let the cabbage fry for a couple of minutes, once it starts to wilt, add the rest of the veggies. Flash fry for 3 to 4 minutes till the veggies start to wilt.
Reduce the flame and add the noodles which should have drained by now. Fry the noodles really well for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring continuously, but making sure not to break it too much. Once you are satisfied that the noodles is looking fried, add the chicken pieces with the juice it may have accumulated and the scrambled egg. Mix everything well together and fry for 3 to 4 minutes more on high heat. 
Sprinkle some black pepper and 1 teaspoon of vinegar and chilli mix, give it a good mix and switch off the flame.
Your chicken chow is ready and it's time to plate. 
You can have this on it's own or doused in chilli sauce and tomato ketchup like I do ( some enterprising vendors also top the chowmein with a raw salad of cucumber, onion and carrots, I have never liked that) or go the extra mile and make some chilli chicken. 

The holy trinity of Kolkata chow flavourings ~ green chilli sauce, tomato ketchup & green chillies soaked in vinegar

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