The origin of “Bachelor’s Chicken Curry”
Every time my grandma made this dish, I would nag her to repeatedly tell me the story behind it. I believe the same story is told in all households in Burma.
This chicken curry is known to be originated from the recipes created by group of bachelors residing in villages, in the past.
Groups of active, energetic and vigilant young men, in every village, are generally responsible for attending the safety and social needs of the villagers, such as protecting the village and organizing all the events including festivals, celebrations and even funerals. The leader of the pack of KarLaThars is usually the eldest bachelor, called KarLaThar Gaung, in Burmese.
One of the primary duties of these young men is to serve the village as lookouts when the night falls. When midnight hunger hit them, the young men would wander around the village to fetch a chicken and pick a long squash and lemongrass. You might see this as an act of stealing. But, from the bachelors’ point of view, this is a way of collecting charges for the service that they provide to the village. And the villagers being aware of that fact, they would cast a blind sight of the mischief acts.
All parts of the chicken, excluding feathers only, cut in big chunks are thrown into the pot on the stove along with smashed lemongrass, water, onions and long squash pieces. Added for the flavoring were typical Burmese pantry staples such as garlic, chilies and fish sauce. While some take care of making the curry, others will cook a pot of rice. Once the rice is ready, they all will devour the food using bare hands, in crouching stance, without caring much about the doneness of the meat.
With the use of freshest ingredients, you can imagine how irresistibly tasty the dish was. Often times, those young, mischievous bachelors would put marijuana in the curry.
From this background story of the chicken bachelor curry, you can feel a sense of genuine camaraderie of these village bachelors.
News of this interesting tradition has spread out to the different corners of Burma overtime and now the chicken bachelor curry has become a family favorite recipe everywhere. However, the traditional recipe has been modified into a more organized cooking method like marinating the chicken beforehand.
Following recipe is an elevated version of the Bachelor’s Chicken Curry.
Serving: 4-6 persons
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Marinating Time: 2 hours (ideally)
Cooking Time: 30 Minutes
- 1.5 lb. skin-on, bone-in free-range chicken
- 4 tbsp. of peanut oil (most widely used type of oil in Burmese cooking)
- 1 tsp. of turmeric powder
- 3 tbsp. of fish sauce
- 2 lemongrass stalks
- 4 garlic cloves
- 3 ginger slices
- 5 onions
- 5 dry red chili peppers
- 1 medium long squash (cut into 1-1.5 inch pieces)
- 1 tsp. of shrimp paste (pungent, smooth paste from pressed, fermented shrimps)
1. Preparing the Spice Paste
- Peal off the tough outer layers of the lemongrass stalks. Cut off the top part, leaving only about 2-2.5 inches of the white, bottom part.
- Chop one of them coarsely and smash another with the side of the knife.
- Soften the dry red chili peppers by soaking them in lukewarm water for 5 minutes.
- To make the spice paste, put the soften chili peppers, chopped lemon grass, garlic and ginger in a mortar and pestle and pound them till smooth and fine.
2. Marinating the Chicken
- Cut the chicken into generous bite-sized chunks.
- Chop the onions roughly.
- Mix chicken pieces with the spice paste, peanut oil, fish sauce and turmeric powder, thoroughly, in a large bowl.
- Using clean, bare hand to mix is preferred but please use gloves if you are afraid of burning your hands from the hot spice paste.
- Set the chicken aside and let them marinate for at least 30 minutes or preferably couple of hours.
3. Cooking Time!
- Place a thin pot on the stove and turn the heat to medium. Next, put the marinated chicken into the pot.
- Stir the chicken pieces constantly for them to not stick to the bottom of the pot.
- After stirring the chicken for good 10 minutes and they started browning, add enough water to submerge the chicken.
- Before covering the pot and letting the chicken simmer in low heat, add the shrimp paste and the smashed lemongrass stalk, triple-folded and tied with its own tough outer layer.
- Cover the pot and cook the chicken till almost tender, stirring occasionally.
- When the chicken is almost fully cooked, put the long squash pieces, which will release sweet juices into the dish.
- After cooking the chicken and the long squash for another 7-10 minutes, adjust the broth (should not be so light nor thick), seasoning and turn the heat off and serve hot with rice. Please enjoy!
Best Food Accompaniment : Spicy Mashed Pressed, Fermented Shrimp (Nga-Pi-Htaung) – recipe will be posted soon.
Note (1): Free-range chicken will need more time to be cooked and tender than farm-raised chicken.
Note (2): The consistency of this dish is somewhere in between soup and curry. To prevent from forming of the thick gravy, we neither finely chop the onions nor fry them in the oil before the meat.
Note (3): Sharing border with India and being commonly under British Colonial Rule, one can find Indian influence on Burmese cuisine to some extent. Burmese curry base is made from lots of oil, onions and garlic, and in some cases, tomatoes. Curries in Burma are not always cooked with complicated curry spice mixes. The two common spices used in every Burmese curry are turmeric powder and chili paste or powder.
Burmese language lesson
- Kyet –> Chicken
- Thar –> Meat in general
- Three-syllabus word KarLaThar –> Bachelor
- Hinn –> a cooked meal or curry