Health & Lifestyle

A Saucy Secret: Story of Kolkata’s Chilli Sauce And Recipe Of Drums Of Heaven

He slices greens meticulously after which locations it on slices of margarine-slathered bread; potato first – to carry the bottom. Three slices of onion go in subsequent – adopted by 4 of cucumber and 4 paper skinny slices of tomato proper on high of it – the most costly product on this explicit lot. He then fishes out a bit of julienned carrots from inside his clear vegetable provider, guaranteeing with a fast look that he isn’t working out, after which tops the mass of greens with some seasoning and a sprinkle of cilantro. An egg is expertly peeled, sliced, positioned on high of this relatively alarming heap that threatens to topple and slide at any second, after which, a cloud of shredded processed cheese covers every little thing. He then locations the second slice of greased bread, and expertly places it inside the new grill, compressing the greens right into a relatively normal-looking sandwich, and fishes out the one he had positioned earlier than. He cuts this into 4 slices earlier than placing it on a paper plate, removes one slice to create space for ketchup and chilli sauce and palms it to me. Ignoring the ketchup, the sandwich is dipped into the inexperienced chilli sauce, and the result’s deeply satisfying – the new, bitter, salty kick of the inexperienced chillies adopted swiftly by the crunch from the greens and the bread and the cheese-laden egg.

Like many different issues distinctive to Kolkata’s Chinatown, the Green Chilli Sauce is one thing many individuals from the 80s had grown up consuming, however they by no means paused to suppose why out-of-town mates would beg them to courier them bottles of the new stuff, or why, when somebody would attempt to discover it in a Chinese market, they might be pointed in the direction of bottles or chilli bean paste, chilli oil, or instructed that it’s decidedly one thing they have no idea about! In my quite a few visits to South East Asia, no condiment got here near the Kolkata Chilli sauce – the closest was maybe Ssamjang, a Korean dipping sauce with black beans in it, and the garlic chilli sauce that’s served with a Hainanese hen rice. You’re in all probability considering that Sriracha could be a great competitor right here, and also you may need been proper, besides the truth that there’s means an excessive amount of sweetness in it that actually performs up the garlic quotient, whereas within the Kolkata-style chilli sauce, its extra in regards to the scorching chilli, and the individuals who made it actually knew how you can make a model that will be perched precariously, a finely balanced condiment completely suited to the Bengali palate.

Brewing the Perfect Chilli Sauce

In the Fifties, when Janice Lee’s grandfather, Lee Shih Chuan, was struggling to grapple with the Kolkata’s meals market and keep on high of his sauce-making recreation, he was unable to search out many takers for the Chinese black bean and chilli oil sauce. After getting mainly destructive critiques from the Kolkata clientele, who neither appreciated the oiliness nor the unusual style, he determined to create one thing that will be extra simply acceptable to the native style buds, and, after quite a few hits and misses, a greenish condiment made its look, a forerunner of the Kolkata-style chilli sauce. The texture – which was mainly chilli-based at first, slowly switched its profile from being too runny, or too thick, to a pourable, ketchup-like consistency, to go well with the palate of those that did not just like the sweetness of tomatoes, and weren’t too fond of the pungency of the mustard, however was a relatively attention-grabbing accompaniment to deep fried items. The reality was – overly candy or salty sauces, with unusual texture and color, have been not often accepted with open arms, and that led to the then-owner of Pou Chong sauces to make a scorching and bitter sauce that will be good for warmth seekers. Thus was born a novel Bengali condiment that broke the confines of Chinatown and went locations.

(Also Read: A Food Journey Around Tiretta Bazaar – Kolkata’s ‘Old Chinatown’)

Chilli Sauce

Janice, the spokesperson for Pou Chong Sauces, famous that when the sauce was first launched, it might be accessible on the market by the spoonful. One giant spoon would value an anna or so at that time. Janice’s grandfather would ask cucumber sellers to unfold it on high of freshly quartered cucumbers and serve it to their clients as an alternate choice to rock salt (beetnoon in Bengali). But the sauce did not actually make an enormous mark till the center of the Nineteen Eighties, and that’s for a relatively unusual and attention-grabbing purpose.

The Rise of Fast Food

The Nineteen Eighties noticed Kolkata turning into one of most populous cities of India, and the rise of actual property resulted within the growth of the town in the direction of totally different instructions, the place cooperative homes, flats and multi-storied residence buildings began cropping up with an alarming frequency. With the federal government’s efforts to scale back inhabitants and the rise of nuclear households, the place each mother and father have been working to make ends meet, folks began to exit extra, spending extra time outdoors their homes. This resulted within the progress of purchasers of avenue meals. The sudden requirement was observed by many, and shortly sufficient, small roadside eateries began to pop up, mainly consisting of a movable kiosk (typically with wheels connected on the backside that will facilitate mobility). Despite numerous selections accessible, the 2 typical dishes that exploded into the scene have been hen or egg rolls and chow mien. Now, this was mainly as a result of each these things may very well be made on a flat tawa that may very well be lit simply with the help of a kerosene burner, did not want as a lot stock funding as its deep fried counterparts just like the cutlets and chops, and have been then thought-about to be nouvelle delicacies by the typical Kolkatan. It was a fast repair that will ideally not give them heartburn, and would include a ‘salad’, a wholesome addition to an in any other case unhealthy plate of chow mien or jazz up an eggy paratha by making it right into a roll. To taste the in any other case bland mixture of chopped cucumber and onions, ketchup and chilli sauce could be drizzled on generously in these smaller kiosks, and shortly sufficient, there have been customers who have been asking for this addition in additional stubborn institutions that had to date maintained a strict adherence to seasoning the roll solely with a sprinkle of lime juice.

The different purpose that was maybe very pertinent was the introduction of Maggi, an instantaneous ramen-style noodle that claimed to be prepared inside two minutes, and could be thus thought-about as “fast” meals, and maybe was the primary level of introduction for a lot of to the world of Chinese delicacies. Maggi experimented with flavors at first, with attention-grabbing mixtures like Capsicum, Curry, and Sweet and Sour, earlier than settling right down to dole out mainly two flavors: Chicken and Masala. This was the time when Maggi was not solely cooked by itself, however was additionally blended with greens and condiments to extend and diversify its taste quotient. Chilli sauce was a significant contributor in upping the ante right here.

As channels began to get added to Indian tv (DD 2, and later, DD Metro), it slowly grew into turning into a supply of leisure that homemakers have been reluctant to overlook out on. With the introduction of cable tv, an entire new world of leisure was unleashed. This additional intensified the necessity to rapidly end kitchen duties to complete their work earlier than sitting to see the following episode of a tv serial, typically solely broadcasted as soon as. An skilled homemaker would put money into blenders to quicken the chopping and grinding course of, armed with recipes for wholesome tiffin, and add bottled sauces to masks the in any other case bland style and a number of errors in rapidly ready meals.

The rising reputation of the egg as an inexpensive and filling protein supply might also be seen as a significant purpose for the expansion of Chilli sauce. Along with ketchup, chilli sauce could be added to customise the ultimate product in response to the client who bought an egg roll or chow mien and wished an additional hit of warmth. Pou Chong’s sauce was, by then, copied by generic manufacturers, who would add their very own twist to it to play with its density and taste quotient. It could be typically served alongside one other in style Bengali breakfast or snack, additionally known as a jolkhabar, the savory French toast, the place eggs spiked with onion and chillies would coat slices of bread earlier than being fried in scorching oil.

In time, Pou Chong got here up with a quantity of variations of the Kolkata Chilli sauce – the crimson chilli sauce got here in late however was embraced by the eating places of Tangra, the brand new Chinatown, the place it was served on tables and in takeaway packets. However, didn’t match as much as the recognition of the Kolkata Green Chilli sauce, which nonetheless guidelines the roost and graces numerous counters throughout the globe right now.

Chilli Sauce can be utilized in lots of types, however a perennial favourite is a model that goes into an old-school fried hen recipe that has been a Kolkata Chinese staple. This is usually tossed right into a candy and bitter sauce, however I desire the model I grew up consuming in Chinatown, served with a half of lime on the aspect and a small bowl of inexperienced chilli sauce.

t1d3f1boDrums of heaven. Image credit: Poorna Banerjee

Drums of Heaven Recipe


  • 16 hen drumsticks (typically, we
  • 2 tablespoon chilli sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon darkish soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic paste
  • 1 teaspoon ginger paste
  • 1 tablespoon corn flour
  • 2 tablespoon rice flour
  • 1/eighth teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper powder
  • 1 egg
  • A pinch of MSG (optionally available)
  • Salt to style
  • Oil to fry
  • 1 lime, reduce in half
  • Chilli sauce (to serve with)


1. Mix collectively the chilli sauce, lemon juice, darkish soy sauce, ginger garlic paste, rice flour, corn flour, MSG, white pepper powder, baking soda, salt and the egg. Mix this completely with the hen items and let it relaxation for 30-40 minutes.

2. In a pan, warmth sufficient oil to deep fry the hen. Carefully, put the hen items in, one piece at a time, in order that the items do not find yourself sticking collectively. Cook over medium-low warmth until the hen items are cooked by means of, about 8-9 minutes. Remove and repeat with the remaining hen drumsticks.

3. Once all of the hen is fried, crank up the warmth to a excessive and deep fry the hen as soon as extra until the hen is crispy and brown, about 1-2 minutes. Serve with wedges of lime or some chilli sauce.

About Poorna BanerjeePoorna Banerjee is a meals author, restaurant critic and social media strategist and runs a weblog Presented by P for the final ten years the place she writes in regards to the meals she eats and cooks, the locations she visits, and the issues she finds of curiosity. She is deeply considering culinary anthropology, and meals historical past and loves books, music, travelling, and a glass of wine, in that order.

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