Chilli Chicken- the origin

Before I started researching and writing about food, I never gave the history of chilli chicken any thought. When I was younger, it was inevitable that I would have the chilli chicken and fried rice at Chung Wah or Waldorf (at its former location on Park Street, where they currently have a variety of restaurants and where MamaGoto had opened and closed as well). Noodles were clearly the obvious choice too. I questioned my friend Freddy, the owner of Golden Joy, one of Tangra’s most well-known Chinese eateries, as to why they added chilli chicken to their menu. The market demanded it, was his straightforward response.

Chilli chicken in the neighbourhood

There was a passage of time when Chili chicken became CHILLI Chicken with additional stress on ‘L’. It was the same time when Chinese Hakka Noodles ( with no trace of origin in Hakka province) were tossed with Indian Garam Masala, and became an iconic food of India. Chicken Manchurian by now had become a much-loved food as was Gobi Manchurian. Both were invented by the Kolkata Tangra boy turned legend – Nelson Wang. Every roadside cart from small joints to large restaurants mastered the art of cooking Indo-Chinese and started making chili chicken. Just like Kolkata Biryani and Chicken Chaap , chowmein and chili chicken became a great combo. It started selling like hot cakes. 

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Easy process of making Chili Chicken

Chinese food has the lowest food cost and the convenience of making it quick. Hence featured in multi-cuisine restaurants across the country in the 80s and 90s. The roadside stalls keep a fixed quantity of noodles boiled and prepared beforehand.  And on order, they toss and sizzle it up on a large tawa and serve it. A fixed number of chicken pieces with chunks of capsicum and onion and green chillies always looks incredibly enticing. When we posted the reel for chili chicken, there were many nostalgic comments.  Some even identified which places are best for roadside Indo-Chinese. Some wondered if Tangra Style Chili chicken could be rechristened as a National dish of Bengal – Well think over it. In the meantime what makes it so great?

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Chili chicken and UMAMI 

Umami is the real thing now and a lot is getting discussed about it. Unknowingly we all have been discussing Umami in various forms but haven’t been able to identify one particular taste. When we met Mr Sanghvi (who needs no introduction) yesterday, it was a serious discussion on food stories across the world and the recipe for making the best Chili chicken came up.

As effortlessly as possible, Mr. Sanghvi mentioned that the Umami comes from the ketchup and Soy sauce and true it is. Some use green chillies, slit and tossed and dried and some use capsicum only. It is a dish which is adopted by Kolkata and India yet is very close to our hearts. What’s the best chili chicken you have had? I am biased towards any fried snack. So a chicken lollypop works great for me too as long as the spice level is kept moderate. 

In case you are wondering what is UMAMI – check no further. Read this article by Mr. Vir Sanghvi 

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What else can go best with a Chilli Chicken other than Chowmein, Isn’t it ? 

So, here is a reel of Kolkata Style Chowmein on Instagram

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Chilli Chiken pin 1

Kolkata Style Chili Chicken

A popular street food as well as restaurant food, this Indo-Chinese dish is made with chicken cubes battered and coated in a soy-based sauce with lots of green chilies.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Course Appetizers, Main Course, Non Vegetarian
Cuisine Chinese, Indian
Servings 4 people


For the marinade

  • 300 gm boneless chicken legs cut into one-inch cubes
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 2 tsp red chili sauce chinese red chili sauce
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp green chili sauce
  • 3-4 tbsp corn flour

For the sauce

  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp ginger julienne
  • 2 large onions cut into large cubes
  • 1 small capsicum cut into thin strips
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp ketchup
  • 1-2 tsp vinegar
  • 4-5 numbers green chilies cut diagonally
  • 1-2 tsp corn flour
  • oil for deep frying


  • Marinade boneless chicken legs with ginger paste, red chili sauce, dark soy sauce, one egg, green chili sauce and 2-3 tbsp of corn flour or a little more if needed.
  • Use salt if needed but soy has a lot of salt anyway. Also, you have to taste the marinade as you go and add more or less of what you need. The taste changes depending on the sauces that you have.
  • Heat oil for deep frying and then take the chicken pcs one by one and deep fry them on medium to hot oil, so that the chicken cooks without burning the coating. Take them out on a paper towel.
  • Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and add chopped garlic and a little bit of chopped or ginger julienne. Add the onions immediately or else the garlic will burn.
  • After 20 seconds, add the capsicum and stir fry on high heat. Once the capsicum has softened a little bit, reduce the heat and add soy sauce, ketchup, vinegar and mix.
  • Then add the chicken pcs and a whole lot of green chilies cut diagonally into smaller pcs. Mix this and add 1-2 tsp of green chili sauce.
  • Toss this around and you can serve it like this also or add 1 cup of water mixed with 1-2 tsp of corn flour, make a gravy, give it a boil and take it off the heat
  • Hope you enjoyed this home version of chili chicken. With chili chicken, you have to go as you like with the sauces.
Keyword chili chicken, chilli chicken, chilli chicken recipe, kolkata chili chicken, tangra chili chicken recipe