There are many stories behind the origin of the name Chicken 65. The most authentic one goes back to the person who introduced the dish.
Think of a man who experimented with over 200 varieties of biryani before starting a restaurant! He is none other than Mr. A. M. Buhari, the founder of Buhari chains of restaurant in India.
Mr. Buhari who came from an ordinary peasant family of Thirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, had to migrate to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) at a very young age. There he worked at a restaurant owned by his uncle Mr. Mardhana Buhari in Colombo. It is here that he mastered the art of cookery and discovered a divine talent to come up with delicious new ideas.
In British Colombo, his dishes become extremely popular among not only the local people, but also among British sailors and soldiers. In fact his biryani was so popular that people started calling it the ‘Buhari’ rice.
But things changed post-independence, when the Ceylon government started to nationalize assets owned by foreigners. The restaurant was confiscated and the Buharis were forced to leave the country.
This set back did not deter A. M. Buhari from pursuing his dream of creating mouthwatering delicacies. In 1951 he reached Madras (now Chennai) and started his first restaurant in India and named it the Buhari Hotel. This restaurant located in Mount Road still exists and is run by Nawaz Buhari, one of his grandsons.
“With the help of his friend and master chef Shamdeen my grandpa tried more than 200 recipes before finalizing the menu for the restaurant,” says Nawaz.
The obsession of Mr. Buhari of coming up with newer and newer dishes for his menu was so profound that he started running out of names for his dishes. It is then that he started applying number tags to his dishes.
In the year 1965 it so happened that one of his newly introduced Chicken dishes become so popular that people even from outside the city started to travel to Madras to have a taste of it. Since it became the largest grossing dish in the history of the restaurant, he decided to make it memorable by naming it after the year of introduction. Thus was born ‘Chicken 65’.
Since then he named many dishes after the year, like Chicken 78, Chicken 82, but none of them survived long enough to attain the worldwide name and fame garnered by Chicken 65.
Chicken 65 lived to its reputation and heralded the establishment of branches of Buhari hotels in different parts of the city. Today the hotel has branches in many parts of the country and even abroad.
But the most remarkable thing about the Buhari legacy is that they did not seek to protect the formula of the dish or boast of any secret ingredient. Hence, unlike many dishes born in the west that have become proprietary products (read KFC), Chicken 65 is available in restaurants all over the world.
“A friend of mine found the dish on the menu of a famous London restaurant and it was called Madras Chicken 65!” says Nawaz, laughing.
For the outstanding contributions he made to the state’s cuisine, A.M. Buhari, was honored with the title Sherif by Karunanidhi, chief minister of Tamil Nadu.
Today a wide variety of Chicken 65s are available in different parts of the country and the world. These include Hyderabadi Chicken 65, Kerala Chicken 65, Chicken 65 Biriyani, Chicken 65 gravy and so on.
Here we try to bring under one umbrella, all these varieties of a world famous dish which had a humble beginning in small restaurant in Madras.
Had Mr. Buhari been a little selfish, this dish could have been the KFC equivalent of the East. But then that is the difference between the East and the west.