Travelogue Archive

Balbir Singh’s Favourite Chicken

Beera’s Chicken vs. Tandoori Chicken

Let’s not waste time trying to define what tandoori chicken is. Some know its history, most know the recipe, some know both, others don’t know anything and really don’t care. One thing is for certain, everyone loves tandoori chicken. If peacocks weren’t found it india, this would definitely be our national bird.

Here’s what you need to know.

Tandoori chicken = Pieces of chicken + a marinade (never standard) + red food colouring. This is then skewered and put into a clay tandoor, where internal temperatures reach up to 600 degrees.
Once cooked, it is served along with onions, mint chutney (mint and curd based “dip”), chaat masala (a powder used to impart  a unique tangy aftertaste in Indian street foods) and lime wedges.

Google ‘Beera Chicken‘ and you’ll probably know why I’m writing about it. This little establishment was visited by prominent food personalities like Anthony Bourdain (plus manager and production team) and Messrs. Rocky and Mayur, the “foodie kings” of India, among others. Also, tripadvisor.com gave it an award for excellence.

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Excited to sample the fare myself, I visited the place with my rickshaw puller, Santosh. We met Mr. Balbir Singh and chatted over lunch. The recipe, as expected, is a secret, so I didn’t bother asking. What I did, instead, was request him to let me taste the marinade, hoping I might be able to crack the code. Did I? Well, let’s just say I have a hunch about what’s in it, I just don’t know how much. But again, doesn’t everyone? The secret is safe, people will travel from all over to eat this chicken. You should, and you need to deserve eating this.

What I learnt from Mr. Singh, was that the joint started way back in 1970. I asked him why he didn’t shift base to Delhi. He told me the local produce held him back because, according to him, the ingredients in Delhi lack quality. I don’t remember arguing when he said this. It makes a huge difference. Dhaba kitchens are small and lack any sort of modern equipment. Their knives look like rulers and I’m not sure if they’ve even heard of a cutting board. The chefs saw my knife and meat thermometer with disgust and I’ll admit they made me look like a bit of a sissy. They did like my phone though, so we took a few pictures of us posing around. Mr. Singh told me to take a few photos of himself and his accolades. He certainly deserved them.
Here is what you need to know about Beera’s chicken.
Beera’s Chicken = Pieces of chicken + secret marinade. This is grilled to perfection and served with a lemon wedge and chaat masala. No chutney, no onion.

The comparison.

If done perfectly, the char outside tandoori chicken is actually a good thing. If botched up, you’re left with a bitter black crust and overcooked chicken. This is quite common because time management with a tandoor is one of the most challenging tasks in any professional kitchen. Beera’s Chicken is grilled, many pieces at once. This way, the guy who grills them has a clear view of what he’s grilling. The result is juicier and tender with little charred bits of meat here and there.

Artificial colouring really doesn’t affect the taste. All it does is make the chicken look unnaturally red. Beera’s Chicken isn’t red, it’s brownish, like a regular roasted chicken without the  jarring artificial colour.

Another reason why tandoori chicken is red is because of dried red chilly powder which, along with artificial colour, really amps up the redness. In most cases, the contents of the marinade are not really measured. This sometimes results in tandoori chicken being, at least for me, too spicy to handle. Beera’s Chicken is less spicy because the amount of red chilly powder is monitored. This is vital because the result is nowhere close to red.

Yes, we all love condiments, the more the better. In most cases, however, what the condiments do is mask the taste of the actual thing. Beera’s Chicken is served with a lime wedge and chaat masala. It actually tastes equally good with or without these two things. Of course, you will get onions and chutney if you ask for it.

Final result:

None, whatsoever, report cards just aren’t my area of expertise. Tandoori or Beera’s, they’re both winners.

Variations of each other. At the end, it’s just chicken, man.

Mr. Singh has taken the path less travelled since 1970. He has made his name by serving brownish chicken in a city famous for red ones. All he’s actually doing is keeping the blessed thing simple and easy. For this, he has the attention of the world and the admiration of many, including me, who left the city very happy and only Rs. 200 (4$) poorer.